During a vaginal examination, the health care provider takes a scraping of mucus and cells from the opening of the uterus, an area called the endocervix. The samples are placed on slides or a special dish, called a culture medium, or both, depending on the suspected cause of infection.
The laboratory team checks the slides or dish at different time periods to see if a bacteria, virus, or fungus has grown. Further tests may be done to identify the specific organism and determine the best treatment.
How to prepare for the test
To prepare for a vaginal examination:
Do not use any vaginal medication or douche before the exam (douching should always be avoided due to risk for uterine and tubal infections).
Empty your bladder (an empty bowel is also preferable).
Take off your clothes from the waist down.
Place your feet in the stirrups on the examination table.
Cover your lower body with the drape or sheet provided.
How the test will feel
You will feel some pressure from the speculum, an instrument inserted into the vagina to hold the area open so that the health care provider can look at the cervix and collect the samples. There may be a slight cramping sensation when the swab touches the cervix.
Why the test is performed
The test may be performed to determine the cause of vaginitis, pelvic pain, an unusual vaginal discharge, or other signs of infection. It is also used to screen for sexually transmitted diseases.
Organisms that are usually present in the vagina are there in the expected amounts.
What abnormal results mean
Abnormal results indicate the presence of an infection in the female genital tract.
McCormack WM. Vulvovaginitis and cervicitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 107.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.