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Vulvodynia: Pain in your vulva could be a sign of this medical condition

While vaginal pain could simply mean a fading infection, in some cases it could be a sign of more serious condition called vulvodynia.
Vaginal pain causes
Know what may be causing vaginal pain. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Team Health Shots Published: 25 Feb 2023, 17:38 pm IST
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Pain in the private areas can be extremely uncomfortable for women! It makes everything complicated, like sex and even going to the bathroom. If you have been suffering from a panic spiral, and wondering why your genitals hurt, let’s introduce you to vulvodynia.

Your vulva – the area around the vaginal opening, is sensitive. There are times when you may experience discomfort and pain there. At times, the pain is so debilitating that you feel extremely uncomfortable doing everyday chores. HealthShots got in touch with Dr Nidhi Khera, Director and Head of Obstetrics and High-Risk Pregnancy, BLK-Max Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi, to know more about it.

Unexplained vulvar or vaginal pain could be vulvodynia

Vulvodynia is a condition in which you feel pain in your vulva or vagina. It can make your day-to-day life very difficult, even sitting for long periods or having sex becomes unthinkable and most women avoid talking about it. This condition can affect women of all age groups for a long duration and usually doesn’t resolve on its own and definitely needs help, explains Dr Khera.

vaginal pain
Unexplained vaginal pain could be a sign of vulvodynia. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

She elucidates, “Vulvodynia is usually caused by nerve damage to the nerves supplying the vulva, which could have happened with previous surgery, childbirth, trapped nerves, and infections. But it is not contagious. Though the vulva usually looks normal, the main issue at hand is continuous pain in and around the vulva and vagina. Various patients describe the pain as burning, stinging, throbbing or soreness which is present in low intensity mostly throughout the day but gets acutely worsened by sitting for long periods and with touch, such as during sex or when inserting a tampon.”

For some women, it significantly affects the quality of life, can affect relationships, affects intercourse, can reduce sex drive, and may lead to low self-esteem, confidence and depression.

Causes of vulvodynia

Some of the common causes of vulvar pain include:

  • Recurrent vaginal thrush or other vaginal infections.
  • Allergic reaction or sensitivity to soaps, vulvar washes, bubble baths or medicated creams.
  • A decrease in oestrogen can cause vulva and vaginal dryness, especially during menopause.
  • Recurrent herpes infection.
  • Skin disorders like lichen sclerosus or lichen planus, which can be extremely irritative and painful to the vulva.
  • In some instances, Behcet’s disease (a blood vessel illness that can result in genital ulcers) or Sjogren’s syndrome may be present (a disorder of the immune system that can cause vaginal dryness).
  • Some other causes of vulvar pain need to be ruled out, and it is important to visit a specialist to proceed further. Swab tests and Q-tip tests are done, adds the expert.
vaginal infection
Know the causes of vulvodynia. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What can you do to avoid the risk?

Making some lifestyle changes may help reduce the symptoms of the condition, or reduce your chances of developing it. Here’s what Dr Khera suggests:

  • Avoid wearing tight undergarments
  • Wear natural breathable fabrics that don’t come in close contact with your vulval skin
  • Keep the usage of perfumed hygiene products to a minimum
  • Avoid products with an astringent, using an emollient instead of a soap is better
  • You can apply ice packs or cool gel packs to the affected area

Treatment for vulvodynia

Your gynaecologist will evaluate you for the cause and severity of the condition and give you the right treatment. Some treatments that are done include local anaesthetics application, emollients, and lubricants. Some oral medications are also prescribed, along with physiotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy with nerve desensitisation. In rare and resistant cases, surgery may be required. Paracetamol and other common painkillers won’t help with vulvodynia pain. You may need to take the medicine for several months. Occasionally medicines are injected into the nerve supplying the painful area. It is helpful to learn pelvic floor exercises to help relax the muscles around your vagina. Psycho-sexual counselling is imperative with the partner, suggests Dr Khera.

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So, in case you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you must connect with your doctor to avoid complications.

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