What Causes Vaginal Pain?

Conditions list medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA

In females, the vagina is the passage from the cervix to the vulva. Pain or discomfort in your vagina is often the result of a medical or psychological issue. Early treatment and intervention may help you find relief and lower your risk of... Read More

In females, the vagina is the passage from the cervix to the vulva. Pain or discomfort in your vagina is often the result of a medical or psychological issue. Early treatment and intervention may help you find relief and lower your risk of complications.

What are the symptoms of vaginal pain?

The specific symptoms of vaginal pain and discomfort vary, depending on the underlying cause. For example, vulvar vestibulitis is a condition that causes pain only when there’s pressure put on your vagina. In contrast, vulvodynia is a condition that causes constant chronic pain.

Depending on your specific condition, you might experience one or more of the following symptoms associated with vaginal pain:

  • burning
  • itching
  • soreness
  • stinging
  • throbbing
  • rawness
  • pain during intercourse

If your vaginal pain is caused by an infection, you may develop abnormal vaginal discharge. For example, it may look or smell different than usual. This can indicate a yeast or bacterial infection.

What causes vaginal pain?

Vaginal pain may be confined to your vaginal area. Or, it may radiate down from your pelvis or cervix.

The most common cause of vaginal pain is infection, reports the UNC School of Medicine. Examples include:

  • yeast infection
  • gonorrhea
  • chlamydia

Other potential causes of vaginal pain include:

  • trauma caused by sex, childbirth, surgery, or other medical procedures
  • vulvovaginal atrophy due to a drop in estrogen following menopause
  • vulvar vestibulitis
  • cervical cancer

Vaginal pain can also stem from a condition called dyspareunia. This is a medical term for painful intercourse. It can be caused by insufficient lubrication during sex from hormonal changes or lack of sexual arousal.

Vaginal pain can also stem from psychological conditions, such as a history of sexual abuse.

In some cases, your doctor may not be able to determine the cause of your vaginal pain. Vulvodynia is the medical term for chronic vaginal pain with no known cause.

Who is at risk of vaginal pain?

Women of all ages can experience vaginal pain.

In some cases, your medical history may increase your risk. For example, hormonal changes brought on by pregnancy, menopause, or hysterectomy may raise your risk of vaginal pain. If you have a history of breast cancer treatment, you’re also at higher risk.

Certain medications may also raise your risk of vaginal pain. For example, statins are medications that help lower cholesterol. They’re known to cause vaginal dryness. This can lead to vaginal pain.

Advancing age is also a risk factor. Menopause causes changes in your hormone levels and thinning of your vaginal tissue. This affects your vaginal lubrication and can contribute to vaginal pain.

How is vaginal pain diagnosed?

If you’re experiencing persistent or recurring vaginal pain, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help diagnose the cause of your vaginal pain. They will likely take your medical history, conduct a physical exam, and if needed, ordering one or more tests.

To take your medical history, your doctor will ask you questions about your health, such as your symptoms, diagnosed medical conditions, surgeries or other medical procedures that you’ve undergone. They may also ask about any medications or supplements that you’ve recently taken. They’ll likely ask questions about your sexual health and habits as well.

Your doctor will likely conduct a physical exam of your vaginal area. During this examination, they’ll check for signs of redness, swelling, damage, or scarring. They may apply pressure with a cotton-tipped applicator to your vulva and vagina to check for pain. If you have vulvodynia, you might experience severe pain when any pressure is applied.

They may also take a sample of your vaginal discharge for testing. If it contains an unusual type or number of bacteria, fungi, or viruses, it’s a sign that an infection may be causing your pain.

If your pain is severe or your doctor suspects you have a serious condition, such as cervical cancer, they may recommend further testing. This can consist of obtaining tissue samples from the cervix for analysis.

If they suspect your vaginal pain has psychological origins, they may refer you to a mental health specialist for evaluation.

How is vaginal pain treated?

To relieve your vaginal pain, your doctor will try to treat its underlying cause. They may prescribe a multi-step approach. For example, they may recommend topical anesthetics or oral medications. In rare cases, they may recommend surgery.

Medication

If you have a bacterial or fungal infection, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications to treat it. You should take all of the doses prescribed, even if your symptoms resolve before you finish the course of treatment. This reduces the chance of the infection returning.  

Your doctor may also recommend topical ointments, such as lidocaine gel. They can help numb your vaginal area. This can help relieve persistent discomfort or pain during intercourse.

Topical steroid creams may also help reduce irritation, swelling, and burning.

Tricyclic antidepressants or anticonvulsants may also help reduce chronic pain.

Surgery

In rare cases, your doctor may recommend anesthetic injections or nerve blocks to help deaden or numb in your vagina. They may also recommend surgery to treat vulvodynia, vulvar vestibulitis, or cervical cancer.

Home care

Some home remedies and over-the-counter treatments may help alleviate vaginal pain.

For example, applying witch hazel pads to your vaginal area may soothe irritation. You can purchase pre-treated witch hazel pads at many drugstores or natural health stories. Alternatively, you can dip your own cotton pads in witch hazel solution.

To relieve pain following urination, it may help to pour clean, lukewarm water over your vulva after going to the washroom. This will help cleanse and soothe the area.

To relieve or prevent pain caused by sex, it may help to use a lubricant during sexual intercourse.

To alleviate vaginal itching, over-the-counter antihistamines may help.

Alternative therapies

If your vaginal pain stems from chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs), taking calcium citrate supplements can help reduce urinary tract symptoms that contribute to vaginal pain. Avoiding foods high in oxalates can also help to prevent UTIs. These foods include leeks, okra, rhubarb, wheat brain, almonds, peanuts, pecans, and pistachios.

But before taking any supplements or changing your diet, talk to your doctor.

What is the outlook for vaginal pain?

Your outlook depends on the underlying cause of your vaginal pain, as well as the treatment you receive. In many cases, following your doctor’s recommended treatment plan can provide lasting relief. Ask your doctor for more information about your specific diagnosis, treatment options, and long-term outlook.

Medically reviewed by Elaine K. Luo, MD on October 21, 2016Written by Rachel Nall


9 possible conditions

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.