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Vaginal Pain Causes and Treatment Relief Options

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There are multiple causes of vaginal pain, including infection, irritation or trauma. Learn how to cure vaginal pain by understanding causes and relief options.

5 most common causes

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Symptoms of vaginal pain

Vaginal pain can be due to a variety of causes. Something as simple as irritation from shaving or soreness after sexual intercourse can cause vaginal pain symptoms. Various infections, including urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause vaginal pain as well.

Some causes of vaginal pain symptoms can be treated or prevented at home by following some basic hygiene instructions. Yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter medications. Other causes of vaginal pain, including all sexually transmitted infections, will need to be evaluated and treated by a doctor. The risk of sexually transmitted infections can be greatly reduced by the proper use of condoms.

Common accompanying symptoms of vaginal pain

If you're experiencing vaginal pain, it's likely to also experience:

Causes of vaginal pain

There are multiple causes of vaginal pain, including infection, irritation, or trauma. Viral and bacterial infections, whether sexually transmitted or not, can cause lesions, pain, discharge, or itching. Yeast infections and urinary tract infections may also cause vaginal pain. Irritation from shaving, hygiene products, or vaginal dryness can lead to pain as well. Less commonly, vaginal pain symptoms are due to trauma or a vaginal pain syndrome.

Infectious causes

Vaginal pain may be caused by the following infections.

  • Viral infections: Certain viruses can cause vaginal infection and pain. Many of these viruses are sexually transmitted. Some viruses can cause lesions or blisters on the outside of the vagina which can be very painful.
  • Bacterial infections: Some bacterial infections can cause vaginal pain symptoms. Some bacterial infections, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, are sexually transmitted. Others, like bacterial vaginosis are not sexually transmitted.
  • Yeast infections: Yeast infections are a common cause of vaginal discomfort or pain. They often present with itching and vaginal discharge.
  • Urinary tract infections: Bacteria can spread to the urinary tract and cause infection in the urethra. This can cause pain in the urethra and surrounding area, particularly pain or burning with urination.

Vaginal pain quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your pain.

Take vaginal pain quiz

Irritation-related causes

Causes related to irritation of the vagina may be related to the following.

  • Post-menopausal: After menopause the natural lubrication in the vagina decreases. This can cause vaginal dryness, resulting in irritation or pain.
  • Topical irritation: Many things can irritate the external part of the vagina and cause pain, including shaving, soaps or lotions, and feminine hygiene products.

Other causes

Other causes of vaginal pain may be related to the following.

  • Pain syndromes: Vaginal pain syndromes are a less common cause of vaginal pain. Typically, they present with pain during sexual intercourse or vaginal penetration.
  • Trauma: Any trauma to the vagina or the surrounding area can lead to pain. Sometimes, women experience pain or soreness after sex.
  • Postpartum: It is common for women to experience vaginal pain or soreness after delivering a baby.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Yeast infection

A vaginal yeast infection, also called genital/vulvovaginal candidiasis, is actually caused by the fungus Candida albicans and is very common. The organism is a normal inhabitant of the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and vagina.

Antibiotics can kill off the healthy bacteria in the vagina, allowing overgrowth of the fungus. Women who are pregnant, on the birth control pill, or diabetic are more prone to yeast infections, as are those who have weakened immune systems. It can also be transmitted through sex or through mouth-to-genital contact.

Symptoms include itching, burning, pain, and soreness inside the vagina and on the external tissues (the vulva,) and a thick, white vaginal discharge.

If not treated, the yeast infection can become "complicated," severe, and difficult to cure.

Most yeast infections are diagnosed simply through the patient's description of symptoms. Recurrent infections may be diagnosed through pelvic examination and vaginal swab.

Treatment often is just an over-the-counter cream, though oral anti-fungal medications are sometimes prescribed.

Vulvar cancer

Vulvar cancer is a cancer of the outer portion of the female genitalia.

You should schedule a visit with your primary care physician as soon as possible to discuss the possibility of this diagnosis. It is likely a biopsy will be taken.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: vaginal discharge, vaginal itch or burning, vaginal pain, painful urination, vagina lump

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Lichen sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus is a rare skin condition that can occur on any part of the body but usually affects the vulva, penis, and anus.

The cause is unknown. It may be an autoimmune disease linked to a hormone imbalance and may start with skin that was previously damaged.

Lichen sclerosus is not contagious and is not considered an STD (sexually transmitted disease.)

Most susceptible are children; women after menopause; and uncircumcised men.

Symptoms include thin, fragile skin with patches of white. There may be pain and severe itching, sometimes with bruising, bleeding, and ulceration.

It is important to seek treatment from a medical provider, because lichen sclerosus has been associated with skin cancer. It can also make sexual intercourse very painful for both men and women.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and skin biopsy.

In children, symptoms often improve at puberty. For mild cases in adults, no treatment is necessary. But if the condition interferes with quality of life, corticosteroid creams can be tried. In some cases, circumcision is recommended for male patients.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vaginal pain, painful sex, dry skin on the outside of the vagina, painful urination

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Vaginal pain quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your pain.

Take vaginal pain quiz

Bartholin duct abscess

The Bartholin gland sits in the outer part of the vagina and produces fluid that lubricates it. A Bartholin duct abscess is caused by a blockage in the gland and a bacterial infection within the fluid that builds up.

You should see your doctor tomorrow for a visit, where you can conduct an exam and perform a drainage, if appropriate.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: vaginal pain, painful sex, bump on the outer part of the vagina, painful vagina lump, small vagina lump

Symptoms that always occur with bartholin duct abscess: bump on the outer part of the vagina, vaginal pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Bartholin cyst

The Bartholin gland sits in the outer part of the vagina and produces fluid that lubricates it. A Bartholin cyst is caused by a blockage in the gland and the build up of fluid behind the blockage.

For small Bartholin cysts that are not bothering you, treatment is not required.

Vaginal pain treatments and relief

At-home treatment and prevention

The best ways to manage or prevent vaginal pain can begin at home. Consider the following options.

  • Hygiene: Use gentle, fragrance-free soaps on the outside of the vagina and avoid using products inside the vagina. Avoid douching. Avoid shaving if it irritates the surrounding skin.
  • Over-the-counter medications: Yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter medication. However, if you are unsure of the cause of your symptoms, see a doctor who can diagnose the problem.
  • STI prevention: Use condoms to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections.

When to see a doctor

If your vaginal pain worsens or persists, you should see your doctor. He or she may recommend the following.

  • Antibiotics: If your symptoms are due to a bacterial infection, like bacterial vaginosis, a urinary tract infection, or gonorrhea or chlamydia, a doctor will prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Other medication: There are various topical and oral medications that can help with vaginal dryness. If you have a viral infection, a doctor might prescribe antivirals.
  • Referral to a specialist: If a doctor suspects that you have a vaginal pain syndrome, they may refer you to a specialist who diagnoses and treats this condition.

When it is an emergency

If you have severe vaginal pain, seek treatment right away.

Questions your doctor may ask about vaginal pain

  • Have you ever had a yeast infection?
  • Do you feel pain when you urinate?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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References

  1. Vaginitis. Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic Link
  2. Jobling P, O'Hara K, Hua S. Female reproductive tract pain: targets, challenges, and outcomes. Front Pharmacol. 2014;5:17. Published Feb. 13, 2014. NCBI Link
  3. Heim LJ. Evaluation of Differential Diagnosis of Dyspareunia. Am Fam Physician. 2001 Apr 15;63(8):1535-1545. AAFP Link
  4. Vaginal Symptoms. healthychildren.org. healthychildren.org Link
  5. Urinary Tract Infection - Female. Seattle Children's. Updated Nov. 3, 2018. Seattle Children's Link