The endocervix is the opening of the uterus. An endocervix culture is a test that helps to determine the cause of infection in the female genital tract. This test is sometimes referred to as a vaginal culture, a cervix culture, endocervical culture or a female genital tract culture.
It’s normal to have some vaginal discharge. However, discharge that changes to an unusual color or odor, varies from your normal amount, or is accompanied by pain may signal an infection. An endocervix culture can identify the infection.
The sample for the culture is taken during a pelvic exam. The actual test is performed in a laboratory. Your doctor will discuss the results with you, and any treatment will be based on the underlying cause of your infection.
All women experience vaginal discharge, especially during their childbearing years. Normal discharge should appear white or yellow. The amount of discharge changes during different phases of your menstrual cycle.
Your doctor might order an endocervix culture when:
- your discharge has significantly increased or decreased
- your discharge has changed color
- your discharge has changed in consistency
- your discharge has an unpleasant odor
- you have pelvic pain
- you have a fever in addition to other symptoms
- you are at risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia and gonorrhea
- you have sores or lesions on your genitalia
- you have symptoms of a urinary tract infection, such as a burning sensation when you urinate
- you have signs of diabetes, such as thirst, increased appetite, and/or weight loss
Make an appointment with your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. A vaginal or cervical infection can spread to the uterus, fallopian tubes, and into the entire pelvic area if left untreated. This could cause serious complications, including painful sexual intercourse and infertility.
An endocervix culture can pinpoint the cause of the infection, so you can begin treatment.
The first step in an endocervix culture a pelvic examination. To prepare, consider the following:
- Avoid having intercourse or using any vaginal products for a few days before your exam.
- Avoid douching (cleaning the vaginal area with special products) because it can actually spread infection. It is especially important to avoid douching for at least 24 hours before your pelvic exam.
- Do not use any vaginal medication before the exam.
- Write down your symptoms and any questions you intend to ask at the exam, as it is easy to forget them once you are there.
The endocervix culture will be obtained during a pelvic exam. You will disrobe from the waist down and lie on an examination table. Your lower body will be covered with a gown and your feet will be placed in stirrups.
Your doctor will take a sample of mucus cells from the endocervix using a metal or plastic instrument called a speculum. A speculum holds the vagina open. During this part of the examination, you may feel some pressure, cramping and/or discomfort.
Your doctor will then place the cell samples on a slide or in a culture dish. The actual test will be performed in a laboratory, where technicians will check for various organisms to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Once your doctor has received the laboratory results, he or she will discuss them with you.
There are some organisms found in the vaginal area that are normal and do not cause problems. However, the endocervix culture can also detect a variety of organisms that do cause infection, including:
- Chlamydia trachomatis, the bacteria that causes the STI chlamydia
- Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes the STI gonorrhea
- herpes simplex virus, which causes the STI genital herpes
This test can also help diagnose and monitor urethritis. Urethritis is an inflammation of the urethra (the tube from which urine leaves your body).
An endocervix culture can also diagnose and monitor pelvic inflammatory disease. Pelvic inflammatory disease is caused by an infection that has spread from your vagina or cervix to your uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, or pelvis.
If you have an abnormal lab result, your doctor will recommend appropriate treatment for your condition.