Health Encyclopedia


What is cervicitis?

Cervicitis is an irritation or infection of the cervix. A number of different organisms can cause it. Cervicitis can be either acute, meaning symptoms start suddenly and are severe, or chronic, lasting over a period of months or longer.

What causes cervicitis?

Cervicitis may be caused by any of a number of sexually transmitted infections including:

  • Gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia
  • Herpes
  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Trichimoniasis

It is often confused with vaginitis.

What are the symptoms of cervicitis?

While each woman may experience symptoms differently, the following are the most common symptoms of cervicitis:

  • Purulent discharge (containing pus)
  • Pelvic pain
  • Bleeding between periods or after sexual intercourse
  • Urinary problems

Infections within the vagina are easily passed to the cervix. Then the tissue of the cervix can become inflamed and  form an open sore. One early sign of this is a pus-like vaginal discharge.

The symptoms of cervicitis may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is cervicitis diagnosed?

Along with a complete medical history and physical and pelvic exam, you may also be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, bacterial vaginosis, and trichimoniasis. Your health care provider will also do a vaginal exam to see if you have pelvic inflammatory disease. 

How is cervicitis treated?

Specific treatment for cervicitis will be determined by your health care provider based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Type and severity of the symptoms
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms and preventing spread of infection and may include:

  • Antibiotics (to kill infecting organisms)
  • Treatment of sexual partners

What are the complications of cervicitis?

Cervicitis is caused by organisms that can move up into the uterus and fallopian tubes if not treated. This can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can lead to infertility and peritonitis, a life-threatening infection. The organisms can also be passed to sexual partners who can develop serious complications.

Key points

  • Cervicitis is an irritation or infection of the cervix.
  • It is often caused by any of a number of sexually transmitted infections.
  • Symptoms may include purulent discharge, pelvic pain, bleeding between periods or after sexual intercourse, or urinary problems.
  • If untreated, the organisms causing cervicitis may move up into the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Treatment for cervicitis includes antibiotics and the treatment of sexual partners.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
  • Grantham, Paula, RN, BSN