What Is Vaginal Pain?
The vagina is the passage from
the cervix to the vulva. Pain or discomfort in the vagina is often the result
of a medical or psychological issue. Early treatment and intervention can help
a patient get pain relief.
What Causes Vaginal Pain?
Vaginal pain can be confined to
the vaginal area. It can also radiate down from the pelvis or cervix. The most
common cause of vaginal pain is infection (UNC
School of Medicine).
Other causes include:
- cervical traumas caused by childbirth, cone
treatments, or the LEEP procedure
- nerve malfunctions from scarring
- post-hysterectomy pain
- vulvovaginal atrophy due to a drop in estrogen
- vulvar vestibulitis
- vulvodynia, or chronic vaginal pain with no
Vaginal pain can also stem from a
condition called dyspareunia. This is when intercourse is painful to a woman. Insufficient
lubrication during sex or a lack of sexual arousal can lead to vaginal pain. An
estimated 60 percent of women experience dyspareunia in their lifetimes (Heim,
Vaginal pain can also stem from
psychological conditions, such as a history of physical or sexual abuse.
Who Is at Risk for Vaginal Pain?
Women of all ages can experience
Past medical conditions may
increase risk in some cases. Examples include hormonal changes brought on by
pregnancy or menopause or a hysterectomy. Women with a history of breast cancer
are at a higher risk.
Medications known to cause
vaginal dryness include statins, which help lower cholesterol. Patients should
not discontinue medications without a doctor’s permission. This is true even if
the medications cause vaginal dryness.
Advancing age is also a risk
factor. Menopause causes a reduction in hormones and a thinning of vaginal
tissue. This affects vaginal lubrication and can contribute to vaginal pain.
What Are the Symptoms of Vaginal Pain?
Symptoms of vaginal pain depend
on the medical conditions that cause it. For example, vulvar vestibulitis
causes pain only when there is pressure on the vagina. In contrast, vulvodynia
patients experience constant, chronic pain.
General symptoms related to vaginal
- pain when having intercourse
Patients with vaginal infections
may experience vaginal discharge. This can indicate a yeast and/or bacterial
How Is Vaginal Pain Diagnosed?
A medical provider diagnoses the cause of vaginal pain with
tests, a physical exam, and the patient’s medical history.
A medical history takes into account past procedures and
surgeries. A provider may also ask questions about sexual health, including
frequency and pain.
A physical exam of the vaginal area will check for any signs
of redness and inflammation. Visible scarring can also indicate causes of vaginal
pain. A physician will try to identify where the painful sensations come from.
Some women with vulvodynia experience pain so severe that touching the vagina
with a cotton-tipped applicator is too painful.
A doctor can take a discharge sample from the vagina and
test it for bacteria. A high number of bacteria may indicate that infection is
the cause of pain.
If the pain is severe or the physician suspects a more
serious condition, such as cancerous tissue, he or she may recommend a laparoscopy.
This is a surgical investigation of the vagina and/or cervical area to view the
inside of the body and take tissue samples for biopsy.
How Is Vaginal Pain Treated?
A medical provider will treat the underlying disorder to
address vaginal pain. Doctors may prescribe a multi-step approach. This can
include topical anesthetics or oral medications.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat
an infection. A patient should take all the antibiotics prescribed, even if the
infection is getting better. This reduces the chance that the infection will
Topical ointments such as lidocaine gel can
help to numb the vaginal area. This can relieve discomfort or numb the vagina
prior to intercourse to reduce painful symptoms.
Topical steroid creams also reduce
irritation, swelling, and burning.
Both tricyclic antidepressants and/or
anticonvulsants can help to reduce chronic pain.
Witch hazel pads
applied to the vaginal area may soothe irritation. This can help patients who experience
pain during intercourse or when urinating. Patients can purchase pre-treated
witch hazel pads at a drugstore or dip their own cotton pads in witch hazel.
relieve painful urination by pouring clean, lukewarm water over the vulva after
urinating. This helps to cleanse the area.
Use of lubricant
during sexual intercourse can also reduce pain. Over-the-counter antihistamines
can lessen vaginal itching.
recommend anesthetic injections or nerve blocks. These help to deaden or numb
instances, a doctor may recommend surgery to treat vulvodynia or vulvar
If vaginal pain
stems from chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs), calcium citrate tablets of between
1,200 to 1,800 milligrams per day may help to reduce urinary tract symptoms that
contribute to vaginal pain.
high in oxalates can also help to reduce kidney stones and UTIs. These foods
include leeks, okra, rhubarb, wheat brain, almonds, peanuts, pecans and
supplements and dietary changes with your doctor or healthcare provider.
What Is the Outlook for Vaginal Pain?
The outcome for vaginal pain treatments depends upon the
condition causing it. However, with care and adherence to treatment
recommendations, patients can often find relief from vaginal pain.