Is this cause for concern?
If you feel pain or discomfort in your vagina, the cause might be an infection or other problem with one or more of your reproductive organs. This includes your:
- fallopian tubes
Pregnancy complications can also cause pain in this region. Some causes of vaginal cramps can be serious, so you should always have your doctor check out this symptom.
Keep reading to learn what symptoms to watch for and conditions that your doctor may diagnose.
Dysmenorrhea is pain that occurs during your menstrual periods. Between 16 and 91 percent of women have some cramping or pain during periods in their reproductive years. In up to 29 percent of these women, the pain is severe.
There are two types of dysmenorrhea:
- Primary dysmenorrhea. This happens during your menstrual period, when your uterus contracts to push out its lining, without an underlying pelvic disease.
- Secondary dysmenorrhea. This is caused by a reproductive disease, such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, or uterine fibroids.
The pain from primary dysmenorrhea usually starts one or two days before your period, or when you begin to bleed. You’ll feel it in your lower abdomen.
Other common accompanying symptoms include:
Pain from secondary dysmenorrhea starts earlier in your menstrual cycle, and it lasts longer than the typical period cramps seen in primary dysmenorrhea.
Vaginitis is inflammation of the vagina commonly caused by bacteria, yeast, or parasites.
Types of vaginitis include:
- Bacterial vaginosis. This is an infection that’s caused by an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria in the vagina.
- Yeast infections. These infections are usually caused by the fungus Candida albicans.
- Trichomoniasis. Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a parasite.
Both yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis are very common. Nearly 30 percent of women ages 14 to 49 in the United States have bacterial vaginosis. About 75 percent of women will get at least one yeast infection in their lifetime.
If you have one of these conditions, you may have vaginal irritation or pain when you urinate or have sex.
Other symptoms include:
Vaginismus is when your vaginal muscles tighten involuntarily as soon as something enters your vagina. It can happen during sex, pelvic exams, or when you insert a tampon. The muscle tightening causes pain that can be severe.
This condition is relatively rare. Between 0.4 and 6 percent of women have vaginismus.
The muscle tightness isn’t under your control. It’s thought to be linked to anxiety or fear — for example, if you had an unpleasant or painful experience during sex in the past.
Other symptoms of vaginismus include:
Vulvodynia is pain involving the vulva — the external female genital area that contains the opening to the vagina — that’s typically chronic and lasts for at least three months. Although there’s no obvious cause, it may be due to:
- an injury to nerves around the vulva
- sensitive skin
This condition affects over 8 percent of women from all age groups. The pain feels like a burning, stinging, or throbbing sensation. It can come and go, and it may be intense enough to prevent you from sitting down or having sex.
Other symptoms include:
- mild swelling of the vulva
The cervix is the narrowed and lowest part of the uterus that contains the opening of the uterus into the vagina. Cervicitis is an inflammation of the cervix. It can be caused by bacterial infections and allergic reactions, but it’s most commonly caused by an STI, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia.
STIs are very common. Nearly 20 million new infections due to an STI are diagnosed each year.
Cervicitis often doesn’t cause any symptoms. Your doctor might discover it when you’re getting a Pap smear or another test on your cervix and other pelvic organs.
When symptoms do occur, they can include:
6. Pelvic floor dysfunction
The pelvic floor muscles support the organs of the pelvis — the bladder, uterus, and rectum. Pelvic floor dysfunction is a group of disorders involving these muscles that interfere with your ability to urinate or have a bowel movement. Injuries, childbirth, and other damage to the muscles of your pelvic floor can cause this condition.
Between 2005 and 2010, up to 25 percent of U.S. women had at least one pelvic floor disorder.
In addition to pain in the pelvis and vagina, pelvic floor dysfunction can cause:
Endometriosis occurs when the tissue that lines the surface inside your uterus, called endometrial tissue, grows outside of the uterine cavity on other parts of your pelvis, like the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or on top of the outside surface of the uterus.
Each month, the uterine lining swells up and then is shed during your period. When this tissue is in other parts of your uterus, it can’t escape in the way that normal endometrial lining is shed. The swollen tissue causes pain wherever it grows.
More than 11 percent of women ages 15 to 44 have endometriosis. In addition to painful menstrual cramps, it can cause:
Adenomyosis occurs when tissue that normally lines your uterus, called endometrial tissue, occurs and grows into the muscular wall part of the uterus.
Every month during your period, this tissue swells up just as it would in the uterus. With nowhere to go, the tissue expands the uterus and causes severe cramping pain during periods.
Adenomyosis isn’t the same as endometriosis. However, some women have both conditions simultaneously. Other symptoms include:
9. Urinary tract infection (UTI)
You get a urinary tract infection (UTI) when germs like bacteria multiply in and infect your urinary tract — including your urethra, bladder, ureters, or kidneys.
With a UTI, the pain is commonly centered in the middle of the pelvis and near the pubic area.
Other symptoms include:
10. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs. It’s typically caused by STDs like chlamydia or gonorrhea. More than 1 million women in the United States are diagnosed with PID each year.
In addition to pain in the lower abdomen, it can cause:
- an unusual, foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- pain or bleeding during sex
- pain or burning during urination
- bleeding between periods
11. Ovarian cyst
Cysts usually don’t cause any symptoms and they eventually go away on their own. However, a large cyst or one that ruptures can cause significant pain. The pain from ovarian cysts is often centered in your lower belly on the side the ovarian cyst occurred on. It can feel dull, or sharp and achy.
Other symptoms include:
12. Uterine fibroids
Fibroids can be so tiny that they’re barely visible, or large enough to stretch out the uterus. Fibroids aren’t cancerous, and they typically don’t increase your risk for cancer. Often times, women with fibroids don’t even have any symptoms unless the growths are large or they press on the ovaries or other nearby structures.
In addition to pressure and pain in the pelvis, fibroids can cause:
- heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding
- bleeding in between periods
- a frequent need to urinate
- trouble emptying the bladder
- pain during sex
- lower back pain
- leg pain
13. Ectopic pregnancy
An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterine cavity — for example, inside the fallopian tube. It will still turn a pregnancy test positive, but the pregnancy isn’t viable.
The first sign of an ectopic pregnancy may be pain in the pelvis or abdomen. Other signs include:
- cramps that feel like an urge to have a bowel movement
- dizziness or fainting
- pain in the shoulder
An ectopic pregnancy can become a medical emergency. A fertilized egg can’t develop into a viable fetus outside the uterus. If the pregnancy continues, it could rupture the fallopian tube and lead to life-threatening bleeding and other complications in the mother.
Thanks to accuracy in diagnostic tests like blood testing and ultrasound, most ectopic pregnancies are diagnosed before the fallopian tube ruptures. However, as of 2012, ectopic pregnancy still caused 4 to 10 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths.
Miscarriage is the loss of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy. About 10 to 20 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. The number may be even higher because most miscarriages happen in the first trimester, in which a miscarriage may occur before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.
Symptoms that you’re having a miscarriage include:
- period-like cramps
- spotting or bleeding coming out of the vagina
- intense pain in the abdomen
These symptoms don’t always mean you’re having a miscarriage. Still, you should see your OB-GYN for tests to check that your pregnancy is healthy.
15. Premature labor
Symptoms of preterm labor include:
- pressure, cramps, or pain in your lower belly
- a dull low backache
- a change in the consistency or color of your vaginal discharge
- contractions that come regularly
- water breaking
If you have any of these symptoms, call your OB-GYN right away.
When to see your doctor
Call your doctor if you experience any new or unusual pain in the vaginal area. You should see your doctor within the next day or two if you’re also experiencing:
- unusual vaginal odor or discharge
- an urgent or frequent need to urinate
- cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- bleeding in between periods or after your periods have stopped
Get medical help right away for more serious symptoms like these:
- heavy bleeding
- sudden or severe pelvic pain
- dizziness or fainting
You should also call your doctor right away if you’re pregnant and you have symptoms like:
Your doctor will do a pelvic exam to check the health of your vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. A transvaginal ultrasound can help your doctor look for problems with the pelvic organs by going through the vagina. Treating conditions that cause vaginal cramps can be simple, or more complex. The sooner you’re treated, the more likely you won’t experience any complications.