Intro to Vulvodynia

Women with vulvodynia have chronic vulvar pain with no known cause. Until recently, doctors didn’t recognize this as a real pain syndrome. Even today, many women do not receive a diagnosis. They may also remain isolated by a condition that is not easy to discuss. Researchers are working hard to uncover the causes of vulvodynia and to find better ways to treat it.

Types of Vulvodynia

Vulvodynia affects the vulva, the external female genital organs. This includes the labia, clitoris, and vaginal opening.

There are two main subtypes of vulvodynia:

  • Generalized vulvodynia is pain in different areas of the vulva at different times. Vulvar pain may be constant or occur every once in a while. Touch or pressure may or may not prompt it. But this may make the pain worse.
  • Vulvar vestibulitis syndrome is pain in the vestibule. This is the entrance to the vagina. Often a burning sensation, this type of vulvar pain comes on only after touch or pressure, such as during intercourse.

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What are the symptoms of Vulvodynia?

Symptoms of vulvodynia usually begin suddenly and can last anywhere from months to years.

These are the most common symptoms of vulvodynia:

  • Burning, stinging, or rawness
  • Aching, soreness, or throbbing
  • Itching

You may feel symptoms of vulvodynia:

  • All the time or just once in a while
  • During activities such as exercise, intercourse, or walking -- or even while at rest
  • While bicycling, inserting tampons, or even sitting
  • In one specific area or throughout your entire vulva

A burning pain is the single most common symptom of vulvodynia. Some women describe it as a knife-like pain or like an acid poured on the skin.

Although the vulva usually appears normal, it may look a bit inflamed or swollen.

The Impact of Vulvodynia Symptoms

Vulvodynia symptoms are not life-threatening. Still, vulvar pain can greatly affect a woman's normal activities. For example, if symptoms are severe or make sex difficult, this might have an impact on her relationship. And this, in turn, may affect her self-image and make her feel depressed. Don’t hesitate to seek help. Many women find ways to control the vulvar pain.

Unfortunately, many health care providers may not be familiar with vulvodynia. Women suffering from this condition may need to search for health care providers who are knowledgeable about this condition.

What causes Vulvodynia?

Doctors don’t know the cause of most forms of vulvodynia. And there is no evidence that infections, such as sexually transmitted diseases, cause vulvodynia.

Researchers are trying to find the causes of vulvodynia. They may include:

  • Nerve injury or irritation
  • Abnormal response in vulvar cells to an infection or trauma
  • Genetic factors that make the vulva respond poorly to chronic inflammation
  • Hypersensitivity to yeast infections
  • Muscle spasms
  • Allergies or irritation to chemicals or other substances
  • Hormonal changes
  • History of sexual abuse
  • Frequent antibiotic use