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What Is a Tampon Test?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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A tampon test is a diagnostic test that checks for certain problems in the genitourinary tract. The patient inserts a tampon which may be specially designed for the collection of samples, leaves it in for a set period of time, and removes it for examination by a doctor or pathologist. This test can be used to check for fistulas and infections. It is also used in vulvodynia research, where doctors want to measure pelvic pain levels in association with various treatment options, with the assistance of an objective measure that can be easily replicated.

If a doctor suspects a patient has a fistula, an abnormal connection between the urethra and vagina or rectum and vagina, a tampon test can be an option. For urinary fistulae, the patient may need to take a pill that changes the color of the urine. The patient inserts a tampon, urinates normally, and then removes it. If the tampon is damp or discolored from urine, this can indicate the presence of a fistula. Similar procedures can be used to check for rectal fistulae. This information can help the doctor determine if the patient needs surgery or other treatments to correct the problem.

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In the case of sexually transmitted infections, a tampon test can be used to collect a sample for a pathologist. This may be necessary if the doctor has trouble getting a clean sample, or if a patient is in a remote area where access to health care is limited. Patients can insert tampons at home, package them in provided containers, and send them to a lab. Using a tampon test does not replace a full physical examination, but can be useful in some settings. Such tests may be available through catalogs in some regions of the world.

Vulvodynia, a condition associated with painful intercourse, is the subject of research to determine how to treat patients effectively. Patients in research trials may be asked to use a tampon test to gauge pain associated with vaginal and vulval contact. They can assign scores on the basis of the pain level, allowing the researchers to determine how effective various treatments in the trial may be for patients in the real world. These can include topical anesthetics and other options, along with placebos.

The patient should receive detailed instructions on how to handle and insert the testing device, which in some cases is simply a regular tampon, and how to remove it for evaluation. It is important to minimize contamination, to reduce the risk of false positives. Patients who experience problems or notice anything abnormal during the test should report this to their doctors, in case this has a bearing on the outcome of the test.

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