Chronic, unexplained pain in the vulva can negatively impact your entire life. Consultant Gynaecologist Dr Alex Eskander offers his expert advice on the causes, symptoms and treatments for vulvodynia.
By Dr Alex Eskander
Suffering from pain, irritation or unexplained discomfort in or around your vagina? There’s a chance it could be vulvodynia. This can be a long-term chronic problem that affects everything from sitting down to sexual intercourse. The good news is there are a number of things you can do to help relieve the pain.
We speak to Dr Alex Eskander, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Gynae Centre, about vulvodynia symptoms, causes and treatment options:
What is vulvodynia?
Vulvodynia is a condition affecting women which, until quite recently wasn’t recognised as a condition. Vulvodynia is unexplained persistent pain of the vulva (this is the entire external female genitalia), which includes the labia, vaginal opening and clitoris.
There are two types of vulvodynia pain:
- Generalised vulvodynia– this refers to pain in different areas of the vulva at different times and is sporadic.
- Localised vulvodynia– this is pain in one area and is often worsened by touch or pressure like intercourse or sitting.
The main symptom of vulvodynia is an intense pain in the vulva area, but some women have reported that the pain also extends into the buttocks and the inner thighs. The type of pain can vary between individuals, ranging from a sore, stinging feeling to an unbearable burning pain.
What causes vulvodynia?
Unfortunately we are not yet able to scientifically prove what causes vulvodynia, it is thought to be caused by damage to the nerves, which can be caused by childbirth or vaginal thrush, for example.
Chronic pain has been shown to impact relationships, mental health and also sex drive, so it’s important to seek help.
Vulvodynia is a chronic condition, and due to the sensitive nature of the subject women often feel embarrassed and so suffer with it for a long time before seeking help, meaning that it can be years before a diagnosis is made and appropriate treatment is administered.
But chronic pain has been shown to impact relationships, mental health and also sex drive, so it’s important to seek help from your doctor or gynaecologist as soon as possible. It is important to rule out other conditions before treating for vulvodynia.
Vulvodynia treatment options
There is still lots more research to be done with regard to the treatment of vulvodynia. However, nerve pain can be treated and some women have found low doses of antidepressant medications helpful as they disrupt the pain signals through the spine.
Physiotherapy can also be used to help relax the pelvic floor muscles and provide relief. In a small number of cases vulvodynia can be linked to trauma in which case, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be beneficial.
It’s important to seek advice from your doctor first, but some women find over the counter lubrication can provide relief.
It’s important to seek advice from your doctor or gynaecologist first, but some women find over the counter lubrication can provide relief as can anaesthetic gel with lidocaine. Using a potent steroid cream for 10 days, followed by medium potency steroid cream twice a week has been found to reduce sensitivity to pain.
If you think you may have vulvodynia or are experiencing vulva pain, it’s strongly recommend to see a specialist for an accurate diagnosis before any treatment is prescribed. Vulvodynia pain can last for years so my advice is do not suffer in silence. Help is available, but it’s important to seek advice as early as possible.
Vulvodynia pain relief tips
There are a number of lifestyle changes that may provide some relief from vulvodynia pain. These include the following:
✔️ Avoiding using scented products like perfumed soaps on or in your genitals – an emollient is a good replacement.
✔️ Cool packs may provide relief from symptoms when you are at home, and wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes can also be beneficial.
✔️ Although it seems counterintuitive, avoiding touching the painful area can actually make the vulva more sensitive.