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Genital sores - female

Definition

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:

  • Herpes is a common cause of painful sores.
  • Genital warts may cause painless sores.

Less common infections such as chancroid, granuloma inguinale, molluscum contagiosum, and syphilis may also cause 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 red 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 or other glands
  • Trauma or scratches
  • Flu-type viruses that can cause genital sores or ulcers in some cases

Home Care

See a health care provider before treating yourself. Self-treatment may make it harder for the 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 tested and treated as well. Do not have any type of sexual activity until your provider says the sores can no longer be spread to others.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your 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 provider will perform a physical examination. This most often includes a pelvic examination. You will be asked 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 1?
  • Does it hurt or itch? Has it grown bigger?
  • Have you ever had 1 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

Augenbraun MH. Genital skin and mucous membrane lesions. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 108.

Frumovitz M, Bodurka DC. Neoplastic diseases of the vulva: lichen sclerosus, intraepithelial neoplasia, paget disease, and carcinoma. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 30.

Gardella C, Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Genital tract infections: vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndrome, endometritis, and salpingitis. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 23.

Link RE, Rosen T. Cutaneous diseases of the external genitalila. In: Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Partin AW, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 16.

Review Date:9/28/2017
Reviewed By:John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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