Vaginal Pain

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is vaginal pain?

Vaginal pain is pain or discomfort in the vagina, sometimes extending to the entire genital area. Some women describe it as a raw sensation or a burning, itching or stinging feeling. The symptoms may range in intensity from mild to severe, and they may improve or worsen with movement or sexual activity.

Symptoms caused by injury often have a sudden onset. Other symptoms may develop slowly and persist and worsen over time, such those related to infectious disease.

Vaginal pain can result from damage or injury to any of the structures of the vulva (external genitalia), including inner and outer labia, vagina, vaginal opening, or the vagina itself. Sometimes, vaginal pain is actually referred pain that originates from injury, disease or infection elsewhere in the vulvar region.

Pain and discomfort in the vulva (vulvodynia) is a common cause of vaginal soreness. Others causes include skin irritation from rashes or household chemicals, recurring infections, and some cancers. Vaginal yeast infections and sexually transmitted diseases can result in vaginal pain. Further, pain may be related to a chronic underlying disease that affects the pelvic organs or other regions of the body.

Vaginal pain alone is rarely a serious medical condition. However, it may be associated with symptoms of a serious or life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), severe pain, chills, or rapid heart rate (tachycardia).

If your vaginal pain is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with vaginal pain?

Vaginal pain may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the vagina may also involve other body systems.

Vulvar symptoms that may occur along with vaginal pain

Vaginal pain may accompany other symptoms affecting the vulvar region including:

  • Bleeding
  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Raw sensation
  • Stinging
  • Throbbing

Other symptoms that may occur along with vaginal pain

Vaginal pain may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, vaginal pain may indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have vaginal pain along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Abdominal, pelvic or lower back pain that can be severe
  • Chills
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)

What causes vaginal pain?

Infections and skin disorders may cause vaginal pain. Disease or injury to any of the structures in the vulvar region can also result in vaginal pain. In addition, vaginal pain can be caused by underlying conditions that involve the body as a whole or the pelvic organs specifically.

Common causes of vaginal pain

Vaginal pain may have common causes including:

  • Allergic reactions to birth control products, such as latex or foams

  • History of surgical procedures in the vulva region

  • Injury from sexual abuse

  • Irritation to vulvar region nerves

  • Rashes in the vulvar region

  • Sexually transmitted infections

  • Skin irritation from chemicals, such as detergent, soap, and feminine hygiene products

  • Vaginal dryness after menopause

  • Vaginismus (involuntary muscle spasms of the vaginal wall)

  • Yeast infections

Gynecologic causes of vaginal pain

Serious or life-threatening causes of vaginal pain

In some cases, vaginal pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated by a health care provider. These include:

  • Cancers of the vagina, uterus, cervix, or other adjacent organs

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (serious infection of the internal genital organs)

  • Pelvic or abdominal trauma

  • Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN; precancerous skin change)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of vaginal pain

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your vaginal pain including:

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • How long have you felt vaginal pain?

  • What medications are you taking?

  • When do you feel vaginal pain?

  • Have you had abnormal bleeding?

What are the potential complications of vaginal pain?

The potential complications of vaginal pain depend on their cause. Getting prompt treatment of injuries or infections can help you avoid serious complications, such as deformity or widespread infection. Vaginal pain associated with serious medical conditions may have long-term and even potentially life-threatening complications. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential problems. Left untreated, conditions that cause vaginal pain may lead to the following complications:

  • Abscess

  • Diminished overall quality of life

  • Infertility

  • Progression of symptoms

  • Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Spread of cancer

  • Spread of infection

  • Transmission of STDs
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 8
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  2. Vulvodynia. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/vulvodynia.html
  3. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
  4. Ponte M, Klemperer E, Sahay A, Chren MM. Effects of vulvodynia on quality of life. J Am Acad Dermatol 2009; 60:70.