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Diagnosis of Vaginal Discharge by Wet Mount Microscopy: A Simple and Underrated Method

Mylonas, Ioannis MD*; Bergauer, Florian MD

Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey: June 2011 - Volume 66 - Issue 6 - p 359-368
doi: 10.1097/OGX.0b013e31822bdf31

Vaginal discharge is highly variable in quality and quantity among different individuals, and even in the same individual during different periods of life. Vaginal discharge is most commonly caused by infection with sexually transmitted organisms or increased colonization by different facultative pathogenic microorganisms (i.e., Gardnerella vaginalis). Noninfectious causes of vaginal discharge are quite rare (10% noninfectious as compared to 90% infectious causes). Most common in women with a vaginal infection is bacterial vaginosis (40%–50% of cases), followed by vulvovaginal candidosis (20%–25%), and then trichomoniasis (15%–20%). If infection is suspected as the primary cause, a sample of the vaginal discharge should be taken and examined microscopically. When evaluating vaginal secretions by phase-contrast wet mount microscopy, knowledge of what is normal versus abnormal is very important. Knowledge of the sensitivity and specificity of wet mount microscopy in different clinical settings is also important.

Target Audience: Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Family Physicians

Learning Objectives: After completing this CME activity, physicians should be better able to evaluate lifetime changes in vaginal secretions, characterize the physiological and pathological appearance of vaginal discharge, assess the clinical practicality and usefulness of wet mount microscopy and use wet mount microscopy to diagnose bacterial vaginosis and other common vaginal infections.

*Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases, †Senior Physician at the Ambulatory, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Campus Innenstadt, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Munich, Germany

Chief Editor's Note: This article is part of a series of continuing education activities in this Journal through which a total of 36 AMA/PRA Category 1 Credits™ can be earned in 2011. Instructions for how CME credits can be earned appear on the last page of the Table of Contents.

All authors, faculty, and staff in a position to control the content of this CME activity and their spouses/life partners (if any) have disclosed that they have no financial relationships with, or financial interest in, any commercial organizations pertaining to this educational activity.

I.M. and F.B. conducted the literature review, drafted the manuscript, and generated the figures.

Correspondence requests to: Ioannis Mylonas, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Campus Innenstadt, Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases in Gynecology and Obstetrics, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Maistrasse 11, 80337 Munich, Germany. E-mail:

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.