You will be asked to lie on your back with your feet in the stirrups. The health care provider will perform a pelvic examination and then insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina. The speculum is slightly opened. This holds the vagina open and allows the health care provider to see inside.
The health care provider inserts a sterile, moist cotton swab into the vagina to take a sample of discharge. The swab and speculum are removed. The discharge is placed onto a slide and placed under a microscope so that it can be checked for signs of infection.
How to prepare for the test
Do not douche for 24 hours before the test.
How the test will feel
There may be slight discomfort with the pelvic examination and when the speculum is inserted.
Why the test is performed
The test looks for the cause of vaginal irritation and discharge.
A normal test result means there are no signs of an infection.
Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
What abnormal results mean
Abnormal results mean there is an infection. The most common infections are due to one or a combination of the following:
Bacterial vaginosis -- bacteria that normally live in the vagina overgrow, causing a heavy, white, fishy-smelling discharge and possibly a rash, painful intercourse, or odor after intercourse
Croft AC, Woods GL. Specimen collection and handling for diagnosis of infectious diseases. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 63.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.