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Vulvodynia: what is it?
Vulvodynia: what is it?
Let's dive into a topic that often flies under the radar: vulvodynia. It's a bit like an invisible ninja causing persistent pain down below.
Vulvodynia isn't your everyday pain; it's like a puzzle wrapped in a mystery and hidden inside an enigma. Picture this: constant discomfort in the vulvar region without any clear reason why. It's frustrating, confusing, and often not talked about enough.
Vulvodynia is a chronic pain condition affecting the vulva, the external part of the female genitalia (2). This pain is intense and persistent, and its exact cause often remains unidentified, which complicates diagnosis. It's estimated that 16-18% of individuals with female anatomy experience vulvodynia, but the actual number might be higher due to underreporting (1).
Symptoms of vulvodynia include:
- A burning sensation in or around the vagina.
- Swelling of the vulva.
- Severe pain during sexual intercourse.
- A sensation of rawness in or around the vagina.
- Intense itching.
- Throbbing in the vulvar area.
- Pain in the clitoris.
The pain may be provoked, meaning it occurs with contact or pressure, or it can be unprovoked, persisting without any apparent trigger. Some people experience a mix of both. Vulvodynia can profoundly impact one's life, causing emotional distress, relationship strain, isolation, and feelings of hopelessness.
Diagnosis often requires a pelvic pain specialist, and treatment typically involves a multi-faceted approach addressing both physical and emotional aspects. Although no single treatment is universally effective, combining various therapies can significantly improve quality of life.
The treatment for vulvodynia often involves a combination of approaches tailored to an individual's specific symptoms and circumstances. It's important to note that what works for one person might not work for another due to the complex and varied nature of this condition. Here are some common approaches used in treating vulvodynia:
- Topical Treatments: Your healthcare provider might prescribe or recommend topical medications such as lidocaine or estrogen creams to help alleviate pain and discomfort.
- Oral Medications: Certain medications like antidepressants, anticonvulsants, or nerve pain medications might be prescribed to manage pain.
- Pelvic Floor Therapy: Working with a pelvic floor physical therapist can help address muscle tension, spasms, and dysfunction in the pelvic floor muscles, which could be contributing to the pain.
- Avoiding Irritants: Identifying and avoiding triggers that worsen symptoms, such as certain soaps, fabrics, or activities that cause discomfort.
- Applying Warm Compresses: Using warm water baths or applying warm compresses to the vulvar area can sometimes provide relief.
Biofeedback and Relaxation Techniques
- Techniques like biofeedback, mindfulness, or relaxation exercises can assist in managing pain by reducing tension and improving overall well-being.
Surgery (in rare cases)
- In some severe cases, surgical interventions such as vestibulectomy (removal of painful tissue) might be considered, but this is typically a last resort when other treatments have failed.
Counselling and Support
- Seeking guidance from a therapist or counsellor experienced in chronic pain management or sexual health can offer emotional support and coping strategies.
Remember, managing vulvodynia often involves trial and error. It's essential to work closely with healthcare professionals to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses your specific symptoms and needs. Additionally, support groups or online communities may offer valuable insights and emotional support from others who understand what you're going through.
It's important to recognize that the pain of vulvodynia is real and not imagined. If you're experiencing these symptoms, there is a reason. More importantly, there is a way to find relief.
Explore support for vulvodynia
- Harlow BL, Stewart EG. A population-based assessment of chronic unexplained vulvar pain: have we underestimated the prevalence of vulvodynia? J Am Med Womens Assoc (1972). 2003;58(2):82-8.
- Bornstein J, Goldstein AT, Stockdale CK, Bergeron S, Pukall C, Zolnoun D, et al. 2015 ISSVD, ISSWSH, and IPPS Consensus Terminology and Classification of Persistent Vulvar Pain and Vulvodynia. J Sex Med. 2016;13(4):607-12.
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