Vulvodynia is a chronic painful condition that chiefly happens around the opening of your vagina (vulva). The excessive pain, discomfort and burning sensation associated with this condition often makes sitting for longer duration extremely painful and even sexual intimacy becomes unthinkable. There is no identifiable cause and it mainly lasts for at least 3 months at a stretch or even years.
Well, for many women, speaking about sexual problems becomes difficult and this leads them to avoid the symptoms. Vulvodynia is treatable and the symptoms can be managed but one needs to speak freely about the pain and discomfort to the doctor to diagnose it better. With more and more cases being reported, researchers are working hard to uncover the exact causes behind it and to find better ways to treat it.
Vulvodynia mainly affects the vulva, i.e., the external female genital organs. This includes the labia, clitoris, and vaginal opening. It is primarily categorized into two types:
Generalized Vulvodynia: This form of vulvodynia is characterized by pain in different areas of the vulvar region at different times. This type of pain may radiate constantly or occasionally. Touch or pressure may or may not cause it but pain obviously makes it worse.
Localized Vulvodynia: This type of vulvodynia involves pain in one area of the vulva and usually results from touch or pressure, like sex or prolonged sitting.
Although the exact cause of Vulvodynia is yet to be discovered, but several studies suggest that this condition might happen due to the following factors:
- Nerve injury or irritation at the vulvar region
- Muscle spasms
- Abnormal response in vulvar cells due to an infection or trauma
- Certain genetic factors that make the vulva respond poorly to chronic inflammation
- Hormonal changes
- History of sexual abuse
- Hypersensitivity to yeast infections
- Allergies or irritation to chemicals or other substances being used to wash the area
- Frequent use of antibiotics
Despite the fact that there is no strong evidence, yet some women suffering from vulvodynia may also have another type of painful condition leading to the doctors drawing a link between the two painful conditions:
- Painful bladder syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Temporomandibular disorder
Other causative factors that may trigger this painful condition includes:Also Read: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
The usual signs and symptoms often crop up suddenly and may last from months to years if not treated on time. These symptoms may be felt all the time or occasionally when you are resting or doing activities like sex, exercise, walking, cycling, inserting a tampon, or even sitting. The primary symptom of vulvodynia is pain in the vulvar region which is chiefly characterized by:
- Painful intercourse (dyspareunia)
If this painful condition is kept hidden and not treated on time, it may lead to:
- Disturbances in sleeping pattern
- Sexual dysfunction
- Decreased quality of life
- Altered body image
- Relationship problems
Diagnosis And Treatment
On noticing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, do talk clearly with your doctor. The doctor usually acknowledges your medical, sexual and surgical history so as to understand the location, nature and extent of the symptoms and conducts the following diagnostics:
Pelvic Exam: The doctor conducts a visual examination of the external genitals and vagina to look for signs of infection.
Cotton Swab Test: The doctor uses a moistened cotton swab to gently check for specific, localized areas of pain in the vulvar region.
Although the treatment may not be the same for all the cases, the doctor usually takes time to understand the symptoms and then comes up with a selective treatment that is mainly targeted upon relieving the painful symptoms. These include:
- Medications like steroids, tricyclic antidepressants or anticonvulsants
- Local anesthetics
- Biofeedback therapy
- Nerve blockers
- Pelvic floor therapy