Prevalence and predictors of chronic lower genital tract discomfort

Bernard L. Harlow, Lauren A. Wise, Elizabeth G. Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

201 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: We sought to determine the prevalence of chronic lower genital tract discomfort in the general population and to identify demographic and reproductive characteristics associated with this disorder. STUDY DESIGN: We surveyed a random sample of 480 women (age range, 20 to 59 years; 60 women for each 5-year age category) from 1 Boston area suburban community. Participants were asked to complete a 1 -page self-administered optically scannable questionnaire that pertained to current and previous genital tract discomfort. RESULTS: After 2 mailings and 1 telephone follow-up, as well as the elimination of 42 ineligible women, 303 (70%) questionnaires were returned. Fifty-six women (18.5%) reported a history of lower genital tract discomfort that persisted for >3 months. Approximately 12% reported a history of chronic knife-like or excessive pain on contact to the genital area, whereas 6.6% experienced persistent lower genital tract itching or burning. Women who reported their age at menarche to be ≤11 years old were more than twice as likely to report a history of chronic lower genital tract discomfort compared with women who began menses at age 12 or later (odds ratio, 2.4; 95% confidence interval, 1.1 to 4.8). Reported pain at the time of first use of tampons was associated with an increased risk of chronic lower genital tract discomfort later in life (odds ratio, 2.4; 95% confidence interval, 1.1 to 4.9). CONCLUSIONS: We have shown that women from the general population are willing to provide sensitive information on lower genital tract discomfort-a first step toward bringing notice to this understudied disorder. In addition, our data support the theory that vulvar trauma in early life may influence or serve as a marker for risk of subsequent chronic vulvar disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)545-550
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican journal of obstetrics and gynecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Genital tract disorders
  • Prevalence
  • Risk factors
  • Vulvodynia


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