What is vaginal swelling?
Swelling of the vagina can be generalized or may be present only in a limited location. Generalized swelling is known as edema. Edema results from fluid filling the tissues and may be associated with normal-looking, red or blotchy overlying skin. In inflammation, the skin is often swollen and red and may be warm to the touch.
Edema may be due to problems with the blood vessels or lymphatics (small, thin vessels that carry tissue fluid) and can also follow trauma. Inflammation can be due to allergy, irritation or infections. Allergy and irritation may be due to exposure to soaps, feminine hygiene products, perfumes, lubricants, douches, creams, or latex. Yeast infections and genital herpes are infections that can cause generalized vaginal swelling. An uncommon cause of generalized vaginal swelling is Fournier’s gangrene, a severe and life-threatening bacterial infection of the genital area that spreads from the urinary or gastrointestinal tracts.
Defined areas of swelling may be due to cysts or abscesses. Cysts of the vaginal wall can result from birth trauma or may form around Gartner’s ducts, ducts that form during fetal development and typically disappear after birth. Some vaginal tumors can also cause cysts. Bartholin’s glands, glands located on either side of the vaginal opening, can fill up with fluid, which can become infected and form abscesses.
The first step to treating vaginal swelling is identifying the cause. Inflammation may be treated by avoiding exposure to any irritants or allergens that can be identified. Antifungal drugs can be given to treat yeast infections, and antiviral drugs may be used to manage genital herpes symptoms. Cysts and abscesses may need to be drained or removed; antibiotics may be used for abscesses.
Vaginal swelling may be due to a treatable condition or may be a sign of a serious medical condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have vaginal swelling accompanied by severe pain, severe swelling, high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), or excessive vaginal bleeding.
If your vaginal swelling is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.
What other symptoms might occur with vaginal swelling?
Vaginal swelling may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the reproductive tract may also involve other body systems.
Reproductive tract symptoms that may occur along with vaginal swelling
Vaginal swelling may accompany other symptoms affecting the reproductive tract including:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Genital itching
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Redness of the vagina and vulva
- Vaginal and vulvar blisters or sores
- Vaginal pain or burning
Other symptoms that may occur along with vaginal swelling
Vaginal swelling may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, vaginal swelling may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have vaginal swelling with any of these life-threatening symptoms including:
- Bleeding while pregnant
- High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Severe pain
- Uncontrollable vaginal bleeding
What causes vaginal swelling?
Vaginal swelling can occur due to edema, inflammation, infection, cysts, abscesses or tumors. Edema may occur with conditions affecting other body systems, while the rest of the causes of vaginal swelling tend to only affect the vagina and reproductive organs.
Local causes of vaginal swelling
Vaginal swelling may be caused by diseases, disorders or conditions that affect the vagina and other reproductive organs including:
Allergy or irritation due to exposure to soaps, feminine hygiene products, perfumes, lubricants, douches, creams, or latex
Cysts or abscess of the Bartholin’s glands (also called greater vestibular glands, glands that secrete mucus located on either side of the vaginal opening)
Gartner’s duct cysts (cysts that form around vaginal ducts that develop in the fetus and typically go away after birth)
Genital herpes (sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2)
Vaginal tumors (benign or cancerous)
Other causes of vaginal swelling
Vaginal swelling can also be caused by other diseases, disorders or conditions including:
Fournier’s gangrene (a severe and life-threatening bacterial infection of the genital area that spreads from the urinary or gastrointestinal tracts)
Heart failure (deterioration of the heart’s ability to pump blood)
Lymphedema (swelling due to blocked or damaged lymphatic vessels)
Pregnancy (due to compression of veins by the uterus)
Venous insufficiency (poor blood flow through the veins)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of vaginal swelling
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your vaginal swelling including:
When did you first notice your vaginal swelling?
Is it painful?
Have you changed soaps or detergents lately or started using any feminine hygiene products?
Have you had vaginal swelling before?
Is there anything that seems to make it better or worse?
Do you have any other symptoms?
What medications are you taking?
What are the potential complications of vaginal swelling?
Because vaginal swelling can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
Difficulty with sexual activity
Spread of a sexually transmitted infection to a sexual partner
Spread of cancer
Spread of infection to other parts of the body