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Vulvar and genital trauma in pediatric and adolescent gynecology

Merritt, Diane F

Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology: October 2004 - Volume 16 - Issue 5 - p 371-381
Adolescent and pediatric gynecology

Purpose of review This review will look critically at recent research articles that pertain to children and adolescents who present with genital injuries.

Recent findings Many recently published articles have noted that the history as given by the child or adolescent is the most important factor in determining the etiology of genital injuries as abuse or accidental. The history is more important than any documented or lack of documented findings on physical examination. Distinguishing whether the injury was accidental or caused by abuse is of significance to the family and the injured child or adolescent. Genital examinations of victims of documented abuse are often normal. Examinations of pregnant adolescents may appear normal, the only evidence that intercourse has taken place being pregnancy. Documented accidental genital injuries are described; unfortunately such injuries can easily be confused with sexual abuse. Photographic documentation of injuries by colposcopic photography has allowed a new level of peer review, improving the understanding of what are normal and non-specific findings, many of which were considered to be abnormal in the past. The psychological impact of living in a violent, war-torn culture, or surviving a traumatic genital injury are reviewed. New ideas on the management of genital trauma are also reported.

Summary Increasingly, victims of sexual abuse are found to have normal examinations, and the victim's history becomes the most important determining factor. Peer review has led to a better understanding of the wide variations in the normal genital examination. Psychological support for these victims is important in the management of genital injuries.

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri, USA

Correspondence to Diane F. Merritt, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Box 8064, 4911 Barnes Jewish Hospital Plaza, St Louis, MO 63110, USA Tel: +1 314 747 1476; fax: +1 314 747 1481; e-mail:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.