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Genital sores - female

Definition

Sores or lesions on the female genitalia or in the vagina may have a number of possible causes.

Alternative Names

Sores on the female genitals

Considerations

Genital sores may be painful, itchy, produce a discharge, or cause no symptoms at all.

Because genital lesions or sores can have a negative affect on a person's self-image, many people do not seek proper medical care. All genital sores should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Itching, painful urination, or painful sexual intercourse often occur with genital lesions.

Common Causes

Sores or lesions on the female genitals are often caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs that can cause these sores include:

Precancerous changes of the vulva (vulvar dysplasia) may appear as white, red, or brown patches on the vulva, and may cause itching. The vulva can also develop skin cancers such as melanoma and basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.

Nonsexually transmitted diseases may also produce sores on the genitals. In young girls (before puberty), common causes of genital sores include:

Less common causes include:

Home Care

See a health care provider before treating yourself. You may make it more difficult for your health care provider to determine what is wrong.

A sitz bath may help relieve itching and crusting.

If the sores are caused by a sexually transmitted infection, notify your sexual partner so that he or she can be treated. Do not have any type of sexual activity until your health care provider says the sores can no longer be spread to others.

Call your health care provider if

Call your health care provider if you:

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

What to expect at your health care provider's office

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

The following tests may be done:

Treatment may include medications that are applied to the skin or that are taken by mouth. The type of medication depends on the cause, but may include corticosteroids, antiviral drugs, antibiotics, or drugs to control itching.

References

Frumovitz M, Bodurka DC. Neoplastic diseases of the vulva: lichen sclerosus, intraepithelial neoplasia, Paget's disease, carcinoma. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap. 30.

Eckert L, Lentz GM. Infections of the lower genital tract: vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndrome, HIV infections. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap. 22.

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.


Review Date: 10/17/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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