There are a lot of women out there who experience severe pain the genital area. Various factors keep many of these women from seeking help, one being embarrassment about approaching a doctor with this issue. This condition is called vulvodynia and often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Some women may even feel okay speaking with a medical professional about their pain, but are still misdiagnosed with conditions such as estrogen deficiency or yeast infections, or even told that it’s a mental issue.
At some point in their lives, vulvodynia may affect up to 25 percent of women, of all ages. Symptoms and issues women with vulvodynia experience include:
- Burning in the vulva that’s sometimes accompanied by tenderness and irritation
- Pain that is triggered by pressure on the vulva
- Pain triggered by intercourse, tampon use or for no clear reason
- A lower quality of life that brings on stress and depressive symptoms
- Trouble sitting for a long time due to pain
- Interference with sex life
According to a 2009 review in Obstetrics, Gynaecology, and Reproductive Medicine, vulvodynia may be caused by vaginal area nerve changes, which would lead to more sensitivity to pain and local immune system alteration that would increase inflammatory processes. The actual cause still remains unclear.
There are various treatments that have been used for vulvodynia. Studies have been conducted to attempt to figure out the effectiveness of different treatments, and have proven to show a big placebo effect. Doctors have prescribed antidepressants, topical lidocaine, and gabapentin–the latter being for a variety of nerve pain issues. Those who’ve already experienced menopause might be given topical estrogen, in the case that their symptoms are caused by a deficiency in estrogen. Kegels and biofeedback are suggested if a woman is experiencing spasms in her pelvic floor muscles. Sometimes vulvodynia is so severe that nerve blocks are used. Surgery is a last resort option and would be used for the removal of sensitive tissue. Speak with your doctor, and even get more professional opinions, before deciding on surgery.
Home remedies can help ease pain. It may be soothing to use cold compresses on the genital area, or take a sitz bath with cool or lukewarm water. It’s important to use soap (or even no soap) that is unscented or mild for cleaning the area, and lubrication for sexual intercourse. Activities that would involve putting pressure on the vulva such as bicycling, should be avoided; they’ll only make symptoms worse.