The endocervix is the opening of the uterus. If you have an infection in your genital tract, your doctor may order a culture of the endocervix to help determine the cause. This test is sometimes called a:
- vaginal culture
- cervix culture
- endocervical culture
- female genital tract culture
It’s normal for women to have some vaginal discharge, but it may be a symptom of an infection if you have discharge that has an unusual color, odor, or quantity, or is accompanied by pain. An endocervical culture can help your doctor identify the cause of your symptoms and provide appropriate treatment.
What is the purpose of an endocervical culture?
All women experience vaginal discharge, especially during childbearing years. Normal discharge should appear white or yellow. The amount of discharge can change during different phases of your menstrual cycle. Unusual changes in your vaginal discharge may be symptoms of an infection.
Your doctor might order an endocervical culture if:
- the quantity of your vaginal discharge has significantly increased or decreased
- the discharge has changed in color or consistency
- the discharge has an unpleasant odor
- you have pelvic pain
- 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 increased thirst, increased appetite, or weight loss
- you have a fever in addition to other symptoms
Make an appointment with your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. A vaginal or cervical infection can spread to your uterus, fallopian tubes, and entire pelvic area if you don’t get treatment for it. This can cause serious complications, including painful sexual intercourse and infertility. An endocervical culture can help your doctor pinpoint the cause of your symptoms, and determine an appropriate treatment.
Your doctor may also order an endocervical culture to screen you for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). For example, they may order the test if one of your sexual partners has been diagnosed with an STI, even if you don’t have symptoms.
How to prepare
Your doctor may ask you to do the following to prepare for the endocervical culture:
- Avoid having intercourse for a few days beforehand.
- Avoid using any vaginal products or douching beforehand.
- Avoid using any vaginal medication beforehand.
- Write down your symptoms and any questions you have.
Douching, or cleaning your vaginal area with special products, can spread infection. It’s especially important to avoid douching for at least 24 hours before your pelvic exam.
What does the procedure involve?
Your doctor will collect a sample of mucous cells from your endocervix during a pelvic exam. They’ll ask you to undress from the waist down and lie on an examination table. They’ll cover your lower body with a gown and ask you to place your feet in stirrups.
Your doctor will use a metal or plastic instrument called a speculum to hold your vagina open. Then, they’ll use a swab to collect a sample of mucous cells from your endocervix. During this part of the exam, you may feel some pressure, cramping, or discomfort.
Your doctor will then place the cell samples on a slide or in a culture container. They’ll send the samples to a laboratory. Lab technicians will check for microorganisms that can cause infections. Once your doctor has received the laboratory results, they’ll discuss the follow-up steps with you.
What do the test results mean?
Some organisms are normally in the vaginal area and don’t cause problems, but a variety of organisms can cause infection, including:
- Chlamydia trachomatis, which is the bacteria that causes chlamydia
- Neisseria gonorrhea, which is the bacteria that causes gonorrhea
- herpes simplex virus, which is the virus that causes genital herpes
This test can also help your doctor diagnose and monitor urethritis. This condition is an inflammation of your urethra, the tube through which urine leaves your body.
Finding out the results of an endocervical culture can also help your doctor diagnose and monitor pelvic inflammatory disease. This condition can occur due to an infection that’s spread from your vagina or cervix to any of the following areas:
- the uterus
- the fallopian tubes
- the ovaries
- the pelvis
If you have an abnormal lab result, your doctor will recommend appropriate follow-up steps. For example, they may order additional tests or prescribe treatment, such as antibiotics or other medications.
If you suspect you have a genital or urinary tract infection, make an appointment with your doctor. They may order an endocervical culture to help determine the cause of your symptoms. For example, this test can help them diagnose:
- genital herpes
- pelvic inflammatory disease
Once your test results are available, ask your doctor for more information about your specific diagnosis, treatment plan, and long-term outlook.