What is the definition of Vulvodynia?

Vulvodynia is a pain disorder of the vulva. This is the outside area of a woman's genitals. Vulvodynia causes severe pain, burning, and stinging of the vulva.

What are the causes for Vulvodynia?

The exact cause of vulvodynia is unknown. Researchers are working to learn more about the condition. Causes may include:

  • Irritation or injury to the nerves of the vulva
  • Hormonal changes
  • Overreaction in the cells of the vulva to infection or injury
  • Extra nerve fibers in the vulva
  • Weak pelvic floor muscles
  • Allergies to certain chemicals
  • Genetic factors that cause sensitivity or overreaction to infection or inflammation

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) DO NOT cause this condition.

What are the symptoms for Vulvodynia?

There are two main types of vulvodynia:

  • Localized vulvodynia. This is pain in just one area of the vulva, usually the opening of the vagina (vestibule). The pain often occurs due to pressure on the area, such as from sexual intercourse, inserting a tampon, or sitting for a long time.
  • General vulvodynia. This is pain in different areas of the vulva. The pain is fairly constant, with some periods of relief. Pressure on the vulva, such as from sitting for a long time or wearing tight pants can make symptoms worse.

The vulvar pain is often:

  • Sharp
  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Throbbing

You may feel symptoms all the time or just some of the time. At times, you may feel pain in the area between your vagina and anus (perineum) and in the inner thighs.

Vulvodynia may occur in teens or in women. Women with vulvodynia often complain of pain during sexual activity. It may occur after having sex the first time. Or, it may occur after years of sexual activity.

Certain things may trigger symptoms:

  • Sexual intercourse
  • Inserting a tampon
  • Wearing tight under wear or pants
  • Urinating
  • Sitting for a long time
  • Exercising or bicycling

What are the current treatments for Vulvodynia?

The goal of the treatment is to reduce pain and relieve symptoms. No one treatment works for all women. You also may need more than one type of treatment to manage your symptoms.

You may be prescribed medicines to help relieve pain, including:

  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antidepressants
  • Opioids
  • Topical creams or ointments, such as lidocaine ointment and estrogen cream

Other treatments and methods that may help include:

  • Physical therapy to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
  • Biofeedback helps relieve pain by teaching you to relax your pelvic floor muscles.
  • Injections of nerve blocks to decrease nerve pain.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy to help you deal with your feelings and emotions.
  • Diet changes to avoid foods with oxalates, including spinach, beets, peanuts, and chocolate.
  • Acupuncture -- be sure to find a practitioner familiar with treating vulvodynia.
  • Other complementary medicine practices such as relaxation and meditation.

LIFESTYLE CHANGES

Lifestyle changes may help prevent vulvodynia triggers and relieve symptoms.

  • DO NOT douche or use soaps or oils that may cause inflammation.
  • Wear all cotton underwear and don't use fabric softener on underpants.
  • Use laundry detergent for sensitive skin and double rinse your underwear.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes.
  • Avoid activities that put pressure on the vulva, such as biking or riding horses.
  • Avoid hot tubs.
  • Use soft, uncolored toilet paper and rinse your vulva with cool water after urinating.
  • Use all-cotton tampons or pads.
  • Use a water-soluble lubricant during intercourse. Urinate after sex to prevent a UTI, and rinse the area with cool water.
  • Use a cold compress on your vulva to relieve pain, such as after intercourse or exercise (be sure to wrap the compress in a clean towel - DO NOT apply it directly to your skin).

SURGERY

Some women with localized vulvodynia may need surgery to relieve pain. The surgery removes the affected skin and tissues around the vaginal opening. Surgery is done only if all the other treatments fail.

What are the support groups for Vulvodynia?

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

The following organization provides information on vulvodynia and local support groups:

  • National Vulvodynia Association - www.nva.org

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Vulvodynia?

Vulvodynia is a complicated disease. It may take weeks to months to achieve some pain relief. Treatment may not ease all symptoms. A combination of treatments and lifestyle changes may work best to help manage the disease.

What are the possible complications for Vulvodynia?

Having this condition can take a physical and emotional toll. It can cause:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Problems in personal relations
  • Sleep problems
  • Problems with sex

Working with a therapist can help you better deal with having a chronic condition.

When should I contact a medical professional for Vulvodynia?

Call your provider if you have symptoms of vulvodynia.

Also call your provider if you have vulvodynia and your symptoms get worse.

REFERENCES

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Committee on Gynecologic Practice; American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP). Committee Opinion No 673: persistent vulvar pain. Obstet Gynecol. 2016;128(3):e78-e84. PMID: 27548558 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27548558/.

Bornstein J, Goldstein AT, Stockdale CK, et al. 2015 ISSVD, ISSWSH, and IPPS consensus terminology and classification of persistent vulvar pain and vulvodynia. J Low Genit Tract Dis. 2016;20(2):126-130. PMID: 27002677 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27002677/.

Stenson AL. Vulvodynia: diagnosis and management. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2017;44(3):493-508. PMID: 28778645 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28778645/.

Waldman SD. Vulvodynia. In: Waldman SD, ed. Atlas of Common Pain Syndromes. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 96.

  • Condition: Common Benign Chronic Vulvar Disorders
  • Journal: American family physician
  • Treatment Used: Multimodal Treatment
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
This article discusses common benign chronic vulvar conditions, including genitourinary syndrome of menopause (formerly called vulvovaginal atrophy), lichen sclerosus, lichen planus, lichen simplex chronicus, and vulvodynia and their treatments.
  • Condition: Provoked Vestibulodynia
  • Journal: Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Treatment Used: Botulinum Toxin A
  • Number of Patients: 124
  • Published —
This study evaluated pain reduction after two injections of 50 units botulinum toxin A compared with placebo for patients with provoked vestibulodynia (vulvar pain).
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Phase: N/A
  • Intervention Type: Other
  • Participants: 30
  • Start Date: April 2021
A Pilot Study Assessing the Feasibility of Using Clitoral Vibrators to Aid Vaginal Dilator Therapy in Women Presenting to Psychosexual Services With Vaginismus.
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Phase: N/A
  • Intervention Type: Other
  • Participants: 60
  • Start Date: February 18, 2021
Is Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) Effective for Reducing Pain Experienced by Women With Provoked Vestibulodynia?