Cervical erosion is a common condition where cells inside the cervical canal grow out and are found on the outer surface of the cervix. This condition is also called vaginal erosion or cervical ectropion. The outer part of the cervix is then left looking eroded, inflamed and infected. It can occur in pregnancy, young women and in menopause. Here are the causes, symptoms and treatment.
What is erosion of the cervix or vaginal erosion (cervical ectropion)? It is “when cells from inside the cervical canal, known as glandular cells (soft cells), are present on the outside surface of the cervix (neck of the womb).” [St Thomas’ Hospital]. The surface of the cervix or neck of the womb is then replaced with an inflamed tissue that emanates from the canal.
The name erosion of the cervix or vagina does not mean your cervix is really eroding. This condition is not related to any disease and is quite common in women who may have estrogen hormone changes or imbalances. Women who are in perfect health can suffer from cervical erosion.
Vaginal erosion pictures
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus. It can be felt just at the top of the vagina. It is often called the neck of the womb. This section of the female reproductive system is normally covered by two types of cells.
- The outer surface is covered with skin-like cells.
- Towards the inner part of the cervix are tiny glands in the lining of cervical canal which make fluid called mucus.
Discharge and bleeding are some of the primary signs of infection and abnormality in the cervix. In the case of cervical erosion, there is ulceration of the lining of the uterus in this part of the womb. It results in pink spots or bright red spots at the opening of the cervix. Here are images and pictures of vaginal erosion for further elaboration.
Cervical erosion causes
What causes cervical ectropion? It is believed that the general cause of cervical ectropion is hormonal imbalances in women. The hormone estrogen is the mostly blamed for this condition. However, doctors also list trauma, some chemicals and infections in the cervical canal as causes of vaginal erosion or abrasion.
Cervical ectopy is common during puberty, during pregnancy and in women who are on birth control pills. These are the times when the hormone estrogen is much affected and fluctuates. Here are the causes of cervical erosion.
1. Estrogen hormone changes
The epithelial lining of the cervix responds to the estrogen levels in your body. According to the Darent Valley Hospital, “the cervix enlarges and the columnar epithelium from the cervical canal moves out to cover part of the cervix.” This is a response to the increase in estrogen during puberty.
- The same vaginal ectropion is also found to occur in some pregnant women as a result of increased estrogen.
- Adolescents also have a surge in the hormone. That is why some of them may suffer from uterine erosion.
- Women on combined birth control pill may also experience vaginal erosion. The pill affects estrogen levels in the body, which in return triggers cervical ectopy.
- Cervical erosion in babies is as a result of the response to maternal estrogen in the uterus. When examined ab birth, about a third of female babies are found to have this kind of ectropion.
- During menopause, women on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be found to suffer from vaginal erosion. The estrogen pills, creams and patches can cause ectopy.
Some women do not undergo hormone replacement therapy during menopause and may not suffer from uterine erosion.
2. Vaginal infections
Cervical erosions themselves are said to leave the cervix and the uterus prone to infections. Vaginal yeast infections and bacterial infections, such as bacterial vaginosis may be a sign of ectopy as well. There’s little evidence linking infections as a cause for eroding cervix.
- Some sources, however, still list infections in the cervical canal as one of the causes.
- The changes in the cells of the cervix are said to leave the area susceptible to infections. It is for this reason that cervical ectropion is always associated with infections.
- Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) e.g. syphilis and herpes are also believed to lead to ulcerations in the cervix. This may be evidenced by pus cells or ulcers around the neck of the womb.
3. Trauma and inflammation
Trauma in the cervical region as well as irritation can also contribute to this condition in some women. This is highly common in women who use intrauterine devices. If you use tampons that are inserted into the vagina, especially for a prolonged time, you can also get erosion of the vagina or cervix.
Sexual intercourse, inserting speculum and other objects into the vagina is believed to be one of the causes of erosion.
Introducing chemicals in the vaginal region is also believed to be one of the causes of cervical ectopy. The most common sources of chemicals that may cause vaginal ectropion and discharges include some contraceptive foams and creams, vaginal douches and even some bath soaps.
Cervical ectropion in pregnancy
Cervical erosion in pregnancy, (as already mentioned) occurs as a result of hormone estrogen fluctuations in the female body. In addition to the changes, pregnant women who suffer from cervicitis may also be prone to erosion of the cervix.
Cervicitis is the inflammation of the surface covering the cervix. This inflammation can be caused by childbirth, allergies, sensitivity, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or other types of infection in the cervix and uterus.
- Other than cervical erosion, women with cervicitis may be found to have small mucus-filled cysts on the walls of the cervix.
- In chronic cases, you may experience bleeding after sexual intercourse.
It is important to note that cervicitis and cervical ectopy are not malignant conditions. They should also not be seen as causes of cancer, although, as we shall see, they may precede cervical cancer in rare cases.
Cervical erosion symptoms
Most women who are suffering from cervical erosion do not show any prominent symptoms. However, when the erosion is significant, a few symptoms may be evident. Discharge, pain during intercourse and bleeding may be accompanied by this condition. Here are signs and symptoms of vaginal ectropion.
1. Vaginal discharge
Vaginal ectropion and discharge are highly linked. You might notice an increase in the amount of discharge in your vagina that may seem abnormal. The discharge may vary in color, though most the most common kind is a yellowish discharge.
- When infections occur in this region, pus cells may produce the yellow discharge.
- In severe cases, the discharge may have a foul smell.
During routine vaginal examinations, some women may be found to have a discharge without any kind of infection. This may mean they have cervical ectropion evidenced by bright red cells on the outer walls of the cervix.
2. Bleeding after sex and between periods
Another symptom of vaginal ectropion is bleeding after intercourse and in between periods. This usually occurs sometime after period or even before period. If you normally experience slight or light bleeding that is not your menstrual period, it could be erosion in your cervix.
- The columnar cells are fragile and may break easily.
- Any kind of trauma or pressure in this region can easily cause the bleeding.
- Cervical erosion and bleeding in early pregnancy for almost no reason may be related to this condition.
Bleeding may also occur after bowel movement. If you experience post coital spotting or bleeding especially during pregnancy, you should see a doctor for checkup just to make sure it is nothing serious.
Pain and discomfort are also other signs that are associated with vaginal erosion. Some women complain of back pain. Others complain of pain during intercourse, also called dyspareunia. Cervical ectropion may also lead to pain after sexual intercourse and when undergoing cervical screening.
The pain results from the bleeding of the delicate glandular cells. They end up producing more mucus and fluid than the squamous epithelial cells in the womb.
Other symptoms of erosion in the cervix may include infertility, general ill health and frequent backaches. These, however are not symptoms directly linked to cervical erosion. Instead, they are linked to resultant infections in the pelvic region.
4. Can cervical erosion cause infertility?
So far, there has not been any direct link between vaginal ectropion and infertility. Some doctors and gynecologists believe that infertility is brought about by the change in vaginal pH that does not favor the survival of sperm in the cervix.
- In and by itself, this kind of erosion does not make you infertile or make it difficult to get pregnant.
Cervical erosion and cancer
Does cervical erosion cause cancer? According to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, cervical ectropion is NOT associated with cervical cancer or even any other condition that is related to cancer.
Vaginal cancer, in its early stages may not show any signs and symptoms. During regular gynecologic examinations such as pap smear tests, some symptoms may be discovered. In general, the following are the common symptoms of vaginal cancer you should look out for to avoid confusion with cervical ectropion.
- Abnormal vaginal discharge, usually a watery discharge
- Frequent urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain when urinating
- A lump in the vagina
- Pain in the pelvic area
- Pain in the back or legs
- Swelling in the legs
Do not ignore any of these signs. A bloody vaginal discharge should be reason enough to see your GP. Some of these symptoms may be associated with HPV as well, so it is important to watch them carefully.
Cervical erosion treatment
Cervical ectropion does not cause any problems in most women. It can go away on its own and thus may not need treatment. However, due to this condition and other complications in the cervix, the glandular cells may bleed more easily.
As a result, your cervix may produce a lot of mucus and bleeding may occur. Pain during and after sexual intercourse can also be a source of distress. These symptoms may require treatment. There are two general treatments for cervical erosion available.
Cauterization is used where there is much need to stop bleeding and spotting. The glandular cells are sealed off using this method to stop them from bleeding. Cauterization, also known as diathermy, uses electric current to cauterize the top layer of the bleeding cells.
Your doctor will use an anesthetic before performing this treatment. This method is the most common used to get rid of the bleeding. It can be done on an outpatient basis.
This is a freezing option that uses a cold treatment instead of electric current. Nitrogen oxide compound is used to destroy the bleeding cells and get rid of the symptoms such as bleeding and pain during intercourse.
Antibiotics for infections
In the case of infections, which are likely to be common due to frequent bleeding in the cervical area, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. While antibiotics are not a direct treatment for cervical erosion, they may help control the infections.
Note that if you see any of the symptoms discussed above, do not try home natural remedies and cures as you can worsen the problem. See a doctor for proper diagnosis, advice and treatment for cervical ectropion or vaginal erosion.
Sources and references
- Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust: Cervical ectropion and cancer
- Patient Info: Uterine Cervix and Common Cervical Abnormalities
- Mayo Clinic: Cervicitis
- Vaginal bleeding after sex
- Abalone Infertility Clinic and IVF Center: Gynaecology
- NHS: Vaginal cancer