Vulvodynia: Symptoms, treatment, and tips

Vulvodynia and vestibulodynia refer to a chronic discomfort of the vulva, the part of a woman’s body that protects the genitals.

It includes the external female genitalia, including the mons pubis, the labia majora and minora, the clitoris, and the perineum.

Vulval pain can happen for a number of reasons, but vulvodynia and vestibulodynia are specifically linked to a hypersensitivity of the nerve endings in the skin.

Around 16 percent of women are estimated to have experienced pain or stinging in the vulval area at some time in their life.

Treatment

Treatment aims to alleviate symptoms. As the cause is unknown, finding a solution that works may take some trial and error.

Medications to block pain may include antidepressants, anticonvulsants, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Other solutions include creams, lotions, and anesthetic gel for applying to the vulval area.

Examples include topical hormone creams containing estrogen and testosterone, topical anesthetics, such as lidocaine, and products that contain an antidepressant or anticonvulsant ingredient. These can be applied 15 to 20 minutes before sexual activity, or when needed. Some of these products are available for purchase online, including lidocaine.

A nerve block is an anesthetic drug that is injected into the nerves that transmit pain signals, in this case, from the vulva to the spine. Interrupting the pain signals in this way can provide short-term relief.

[vulval pain can lead to relationship problems]
Persistent vulval pain can lead to relationship problems.

If no other method is effective, surgery to remove the painful tissue may be appropriate.

Two techniques that are currently being investigated are neurostimulation and the spinal infusion pump.

Neurostimulation involves delivering low-voltage electrical stimulation to a specific nerve. This can replace pain with a tingling sensation.

A spinal infusion pump is an implanted device that can deliver low-dose medication to the spinal cord and nerve roots. This can dull pain.

However, there is limited evidence regarding the use of these measures for vulvodynia.

Some researchers have found that physical and psychosexual therapy can help improve sexual functioning, for example, by helping to reverse a fear of touch.

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Symptoms

[vulvodynia can be painful]
Vulvodynia can be painful, but the exact cause remains unknown.

Vulvodynia features a burning, stinging, itching, irritating, or a raw feeling in the vulvar tissue, which may or may not appear inflamed. Patients may describe a feeling of throbbing, itching, aching, soreness, and swelling.

The pain can affect a particular spot, or it may be felt in a wider area, including the clitoris, the perineum, the mons pubis, and the inner thighs. It can also affect the area around the urethra and the top of the legs and inner thighs.

The pain involved in vulvodynia is neuropathic, which means it stems from abnormal signals from the nerve fibers in the vulval area. The nerve endings are hypersensitive.

It may be constant or intermittent. A constant pain that happens when there is no touch or pressure is known as unprovoked vulvodynia.

Vestibulodynia, previously known as vestibulitis, involves a pain that is triggered by light touch, or provoked pain.

Symptoms may be worse during or after sexual intercourse, walking, sitting, or exercising. It can happen when inserting a tampon, or when prolonged pressure is applied, for example, during horseback riding.

Vulvodynia is usually defined as lasting for at least 3 months. It often starts suddenly, and it may last for months or years. It is not life-threatening, but the pain can prevent the individual from carrying out some normal activities. This can also lead to upset or depression.

Complications

Relationship problems can result, because sexual intercourse is painful. One study suggests that 60 percent of women with vulvodynia are unable to engage in sex.

Studies suggest that women who have vulvodynia can have a normal pregnancy, and that in some cases, pain levels fall during pregnancy. However, women with the condition are more likely to have a cesarean delivery.

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Home remedies

Some measures can be taken that do not involve medications.

If vulvodynia occurs, the first step is to stop using any irritants, such as perfumed soaps. A change in menstrual products might help, for example, switching from synthetic to cotton-based items.

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