Vulvodynia: What Is It, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

March 2022

Vulvodynia is a condition characterized by chronic pain and discomfort in the vulvar area. This problem can cause symptoms such as pain, irritation, redness or pricking feeling in the genital area, which sometimes can be confused with dermatosis or vaginal infections. 

Generally, vulvodynia leads to painful intercourse, with symptoms that can last for hours or even days after intercourse. This condition has no cure, and therefore treatment is aimed at relieving pain and discomfort, in hopes of improving quality of life.

If you suspect you have this condition, you should see your doctor or a gynecologist for assessment to rule out other conditions and determine if there are options availabe to relieve pain. 

Main symptoms

The main symptoms of vulvodynia include: 

  • Pain with palpation and irritation in the vulvar area; 
  • Redness and a prickling feeling in the genital area; 
  • Increased sensibility;
  • A burning sensation in the vulva; 
  • Pain during sex; 

Women with this condition may also have difficulty inserting tampons or doing certain activities, like horseback riding or cycling. 

The main problem with vulvodynia is that intercourse is generally painful, and pain may last for hours or days after the sexual contact. The pain may be constant, and the symptoms may range from a slight discomfort to an intense pain that can interfere with basic movements, like sitting down.

How to confirm the diagnosis

A gynecologist can diagnose the condition by palpating the area to identify where the sensibility or pain is coming from. Many times, this exam is carried out using a cotton swab to put pressure on specific points in the genital area.

What causes vulvodynia

Vulvodynia can affect women of all ages, from teenagers to women experiencing menopause. 

Even though vulvodynia causes are still not known, there are several factors that are linked to the problem: 

  • Neuropathic pain; 
  • Genetic factors; 
  • Pelvic floor problems or dysfunctions; 
  • Hormonal changes; 
  • Changes in the nerve systems;

In addition, this disease can also be linked to other factors like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress, depression, migraines, or recurrent candidiasis. 

How is treatment made

The treatment for vulvodynia depends on what type it is and the intensity of the symptoms, as there is no defined treatment for the disease. 

Treatment can include topical medication such as lidocaine, oral medication such as estrogen pills, antidepressants or antiepileptic drugs, which relax the muscles, psychotherapy or sexual advice. In more serious cases, a surgery called vestibulectomy may also be necessary. In addition, taking care of the genital area daily is also important, especially treating the skin and maintaining good hygiene, as using aggressive products can aggravate symptoms. 

Treatment can also be complemented with physiotherapy and TENS machines to decrease pain, as well as exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, such as Kegel exercises, pompoir, or vaginal stones.

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in March 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Sheila Sedicias - Gynecologist in February 2021.

References

  • CARÁ, VALENTINA M.; MAZZOCCHI, LEONARDO; MARQUES, FLORENCE Z. C. Manejo da dor vulvar - Vulvodínia. 2018. Available on: <https://docs.bvsalud.org/biblioref/2018/02/879721/manejo-da-dor-vulvar-vulvodinia-valentina-metsavaht-carau.pdf>. Access in 24 Feb 2021
  • SOUZA, Camilly; VAZ, Maricelle M. T.; ANDRADE, Adilson et al. Técnicas fisioterapêuticas para a dor sexual em mulheres: revisão sistemática. Rev Med Minas Gerais. Vol 30. 2020
Show more references
  • FEDERAÇÃO BRASILEIRA DAS ASSOCIAÇÕES DE GINECOLOGIA E OBSTETRÍCIA. Vulvodínea: atualidades. Available on: <https://www.febrasgo.org.br/pt/noticias/item/763-vulvodinea-atualidades>. Access in 24 Feb 2021
  • MONTEIRO, Marilene V. C.; BARRETO, Larissa V.; AMORIM, Andrea G. et al. Vulvodínia: diagnóstico e tratamento. FEMINA. Vol 43. 2 ed; 71-75, 2015
Medical review:
Dr. Sheila Sedicias
Gynecologist
Physician graduated in Mastology and Gynecology by UFPE in 2008 and member no. 17459 of CRM-PE, Brazil.