When a doctor suggests using a vaginal ultrasound to get a better sense of your health, you will probably have questions about the procedure. Perhaps most importantly, does a vaginal ultrasound hurt? It’s examining a pretty sensitive area, after all.
First, though, what exactly are vaginal ultrasounds? “Ultrasounds are methods of imaging internal organs with soundwaves,” Ashley Brant, M.D., OB/GYN at the Cleveland Clinic, tells Romper. A transducer, also known as a wand or probe, sends out sound signals that are then arranged into an image on a computer. For a vaginal ultrasound in particular, well, you can guess where the transducer goes. “The probe is covered by a sterile cover resembling a condom, sterile gel is applied to the tip, and the probe is placed into the vagina,” Kecia Gaither, M.D., Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, tells Romper. In most cases, the probe is put into place by the provider or the patient, Dr. Gaither explains, and the procedure does not take a lot of time.
For many patients, getting a vaginal ultrasound isn’t that bad. “Most of the time, transvaginal ultrasounds are not painful,” says Dr. Brant. “The transducer can go inside the vagina without causing pain.” Plus, it isn't like the physician is coming at you with some gigantic instrument. The transvaginal ultrasound probe is only about 2 cm in diameter, as noted in Advanced Women's Imaging. It's more or less the size of a tampon.
However, there are some caveats when it comes to vaginal ultrasounds. People who have a narrow vaginal opening, medical conditions that cause muscles of the vagina to spasm, or those with a history of sexual assault or other trauma may have more issues or pain with this type of ultrasound, as Dr. Brant explains. In these instances, communication with your physician is key, particularly a discussion about why the vaginal ultrasound is recommended. “Pain can be related to anxiety, and asking questions can help relieve anxiety,” says Dr. Brant. “If patients are feeling really anxious about a vaginal ultrasound, it is appropriate to ask their doctor if an abdominal ultrasound would be appropriate.” Getting an abdominal ultrasound done means the transducer is gently pressed against a patient’s stomach area, so it’s generally less invasive, as explained in the Mayo Clinic.
Despite the potential awkwardness of this particular examination, the vaginal ultrasound can provide a wealth of useful info about your health. "It is now more than 30 years since the introduction of transvaginal ultrasound scanning into the daily practice of obstetrics/gynecology. It is used in the diagnostic process of all aspects of gynecology, including diagnosis of ovarian cancer and ectopic pregnancies," said Ilan E. Timor-Tritsch, M.D., in a 2017 issue of the Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal. With so many potential medical uses, this type of ultrasound is a common medical procedure.
Whether you're getting a fertility assessment, checking for fibroids, or looking for the cause of pelvic pain, these exams can be indispensable. For most people, the transvaginal ultrasound is a quick, safe, and relatively painless procedure that offers your healthcare provider some great insight into your body’s inner workings.
*If you or a loved one is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the RAINN hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for assistance 24 hours a day.
Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in OB/GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine, Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln
This article was originally published on