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Genital sores - female

Sores or lesions on the female genitalia or in the vagina may occur for many reasons.

Alternative Names

Sores on the female genitals

Considerations

Genital sores may be painful or itchy, or may produce no symptoms. Other symptoms that may be present include pain when you urinate or painful sexual intercourse. Depending on the cause, a discharge from the vagina may be present.

Causes

Infections spread through sexual contact can cause these sores:

Changes that may lead to cancer of the vulva (vulvar dysplasia) may appear as white, red, or brown patches on the vulva. These areas may itch. Skin cancers such as melanoma and basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas may also be found, but are less common.

Other common causes of genital sores include:

  • Long-term (chronic) skin disorder that involves scaly and itchy rashes. (Atopic dermatitis )
  • Skin that becomes red, sore, or inflamed after contact with perfumes, detergents, fabric softeners, feminine sprays, ointments, creams, douches. (Contact dermatitis )
  • Cysts or abscesses of the Bartholin's or other glands

Home Care

See a health care provider before treating yourself. Self-treatment may make it harder for the health care provider to find the source of the problem.

A sitz bath may help relieve itching and crusting.

If the sores are caused by a sexually transmitted infection, your sexual partner may need to be treated as well. Do not have any type of sexual activity until your health care provider says the sores can no longer be spread to others.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you:

  • Find any unexplained genital sore
  • Have a change in a genital sore
  • Have genital itching that does not go away with home care
  • Think you might have a sexually transmitted infection
  • Have pelvic pain, fever, vaginal bleeding, or other new symptoms as well genital sores

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your health care provider will perform a physical examination. The physical examination will usually include a pelvic examination. You will be asked questions about your symptoms and medical history. Questions may include:

  • What does the sore look like? Where is it located?
  • When did you first notice it?
  • Do you have more than one?
  • Does it hurt or itch? Has it grown bigger?
  • Have you ever had one before?
  • How often do you have sexual activity?
  • Do you have painful urination or pain during sexual intercourse?
  • Do you have abnormal vaginal drainage?

The following tests may be done:

Treatment may include medicines that you put on the skin or take by mouth. The type of medicine depends on the cause.

References

Frumovitz M, Bodurka DC. Neoplastic diseases of the vulva. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 30.

Eckert L, Lentz GM. Infections of the lower genital tract. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 23.

Zeimet A, McBride DR, Basilan R, et al. Infectious diseases. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 16.

Updated: 11/10/2013

Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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