Understanding Vulvodynia - Definition, symptoms, & treatments
Vulvodynia is officially defined as "chronic pain syndrome the vulvar area without an identifiable cause". To put it simpler, it is having ongoing pain for at least 3 months in your genital area without a cause. It is one of those diagnosis's that is based on a process of elimination. If the doctor can't find any underlying cause - such as vaginal infections, yeast infections, allergic reactions, or pelvic floor issues, and the pain persists, its classified as Vulvodynia.
This diagnosis reminds me of the general anxiety disorder diagnosis in the mental health field. Its a bit of a lumping in diagnosis, where the doctors don't have any answers as to what underlying issues may be causing the pain, so they call the condition vulvodynia.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Vulvodynia?:
The most common symptom for vulvodynia is pain. Pain anywhere in the vulva area, including the clitoris, vagina, opening, and labia - essentially the external female sex organs. To be classified officially as vulvodynia, the pain must last at least 3 months.
For most women, the pain in their vulva occurs or worsens when interacting with their vulva, through insertion of tampons, sexual intercourse, wearing tight fitted pants, or even prolonged sitting. The official term for pain when interacting with the vulva is provoked vestibulodynia, or PVD for short.
Interesting Note: The term "Vulva" comes from the Latin word for wrapper or covering.
The most common symptom is a burning sensation in the vulva, but for many it could also be described as a general discomfort.
What causes vulvodynia?
The challenge with vulvodynia is that it is a diagnosis through elimination. Once all other potential causes of vulva pain are ruled out, you will likely be diagnosed with vulvodynia.
There is no known cause of Vuuvlodynia, there are only hypotheses at this time.
Research suggests the a possible cause of vulvodynia is a hypersensitivity of your nerve endings in the skin. This hypersensitivity can cause pain and discomfort with touch, pressure, or penetration.
Another potential cause of vulvodynia is weakness in your pelvic floor muscles that support your internal organs.
There is also some association within family history of vulvodynia.
Sometimes vulvodynia can be a result of an allergic reaction to certain soaps or cleaning products, including vaginal sprays or douches.
You are not alone! An estimated 16% of women experience pain or stinting in their vulva area sometime in their lifetime according to research!
How do you treat Vulvodynia? What are available vulvodynia treatments & remedies?
The cause of vulvodyina is unknown, so the treatment process of vulvodynia is one of process of elimination. You can work your way through the various treatment suggestions - generally starting with the easiest and least invasive - with the goal of the reduction or elimination of pain and discomfort.
Keep in mind that vulvodynia affects more then just your physical body, there are mental and emotional challenges with vulvodynia, including depression and anxiety. Vulvodynia can cause stress on relationships as physical connection through sexual activities can difficult or impossible.
Vulvodyina treatment option 1: Reducing irritants: The quickest and easiest treatment for vulvodynia to try is to remove and reduce any potential irritants. Change your body wash, stop using any feminine douche or cleaning products, reduce tampons, pads, etc. with fragrance or known irritants, change the material or design of your underwear, and generally try to reduce any and all potential irritants on or near your vulva.
Vulvodynia treatment option 2: Oral pain blocking medications: This is a pain management treatment and not a remedy, but taking both non-prescription and prescription medications designed to block pain can reduce the discomfort of vulvodynia. Non-prescription medications can include aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, etc. and prescription medications could include anticonvulsion, antidepressants, SNRI and SSRI's.
Vulvodynia Treatment option 3: Improve pelvic floor health through exercise: There has been many studies showing the effectiveness of improvements in pelvic floor health reducing or eliminating the symptoms of vulvodynia.
Studies of women using physical therapy treatment for vulvodynia showed a 71% success rate of moderate to great improvement in vulva pain, as well as decreased pain during intercourse and medical exams. They participants of the study also reported increased frequency of sex, desire for sex, and sexual arousal.
One of the keys to physical therapy for vulvodynia is pelvic floor strengthening exercises - specifically kegel exercises. This is one of the best methods to strengthen your internal pelvic floor muscles. YoniFlex offers one of the best private and discreet pelvic floor trainers on the market. Our YoniFlex machine automates the kegel exercises that physical therapists recommend for vulvodynia. Using EMS technology in the privacy of your own home, the YoniFlex assists in kegel exercise by contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles automatically. Click or tap For more information on our YoniFlex Pelvic Floor trainer.
Interesting Note: The word "Vulva" started gaining popularity in books in the early 1800's and spiked in popularity in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
Vulvodynia Treatment Option 4: Topical medications: Topical medications are applied directly to the vulva to reduce discomfort. These medicines can include hormone creams with estrogen or testosterone, topical anesthetics such as lidocaine, or topical compound formulations with anti-convulsion or antidepressant characteristics. Most topical medications to treat vulvodynia will be by prescription, so check in with your health professional for information on topical medications for the treatment of vulvodynia.
Vulvodynia Treatment option 5: Nerve Blocks: Nerve blocks to treat vulvodynia work by numbing the area of your body in pain. This is often done by way of injection of medicine to block specific nerves from sending pain signals to your brain.
The most common type of nerve block is an epidermal, which blocks the nerves of the lower body to reduce pain during child birth. Nerve blocking procedures can offer immediate pain relief and allow people to function better in their daily lives. Nerve blocks do not last forever, and carry with them risks.
A nerve block can lead to infection and bleeding at the place of the injection. It is also possible for the health care professional to hit the wrong nerve during the procedure. Overall, compared with many more invasive procedures nerve blocks are quite safe.
Vulvodynia Treatment option 6: Surgery (vestibulectomy): In extreme cases of vulvodynia, especially provoked vestibulodynia, surgery could be an option. In some women, surgery removing some of the affected skin and tissue of the vulva will reduce or eliminate the pain. The surgery performed is called a vestibulectomy, which will remove the tender or painful areas within the vulva.
Vestibulectomy surgery is not often performed, with the majority of patients opting for less invasive methods to treat vulvodynia then surgery. Only select patients are even considered for surgery. For women who experience dysaesthetic vulvodynia - those with continuous pain in their vulva - the operation is rarely effective.
Well, there you have it. Here is a review of what we have covered:
- Definition of Vulvodynia
- Symptoms of Vulvodynia
- Treatment and pain management options for the treatment of Vulvodynia.
I hope you enjoyed this article and learned something you may not have known before. Remember we are in this together, and supporting each other as women is incredibly important! We need to take the fear, embarrassment and judgement out of the challenges that so many women face, and embrace each other through our lives.