Vulvodynia: A Mystery Condition
Some medical problems are puzzling even for the best doctors, and one of these mysterious medical conditions is vulvodynia. You, too, are probably wondering, what in the world is vulvodynia?! To put it simply, vulvodynia is vulvar pain. Below, we explore this troubling condition that can cause extraordinary levels of pain and discomfort in people’s lives.
What is Vulvodynia?
As mentioned above, vulvodynia is vulvar pain that cannot be explained by any known medical condition. This means that the pain is often concentrated in the area immediately surrounding the vaginal opening. This is also known as the vulva. Vulvodynia is chronic, meaning that it lasts at least several months. But, for many women, the frustrating and mysterious pain of vulvodynia can extend for years. Yet, even though the condition is chronic, the pain can be acute and often painfully debilitating. In addition to pain, there are numerous other potential symptoms, such as:
- Generalized irritation
In addition, sometimes, on examination, the vulvar area may look raw or inflamed, but often physical exams are normal.
How The Vulvar Pain Impacts You
As you might imagine, the symptoms above can get in the way of day-to-day functions. For example, the vulvar pain may be so severe that a sufferer cannot even sit down. Urination may be painful, and sexual activity is often excruciating. What makes these symptoms even more frustrating to manage is that they are often unpredictable. Some days they can be extremely unpleasant, whereas, on other days, they may be more minor. It is impossible for vulvodynia sufferers to predict this ahead of time.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the severity of potential symptoms, women with vulvodynia often note that they experience psychological symptoms. It can be destructive for self-confidence and highly disruptive to intimate partner relationships. These problems are compounded if vulvodynia happens during perimenopause when many women are already struggling with self-esteem.
Causes of Vulvodynia
Because vulvodynia is so mysterious, there is debate in the scientific and medical community about what causes vulvodynia. Many medical providers surmise that menopause is one of the primary causes of vulvodynia and that the drop in estrogen levels during menopause is the principal driver of symptoms.
But, other theories exist too. Some medical providers believe that vulvodynia is the result of either environmental allergens or contact allergens that can irritate the sensitive skin of the vagina.
Previous infections, such as sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs), are also surmised to play a role in the development of vulvodynia. Pelvic injuries or muscular weaknesses that often happen following birth (either vaginal or C-section) may also lead to vulvodynia. A C-section may lead to long-term challenges with vulvodynia. However, it may be the only viable delivery option for women who already have active vulvodynia.
Vulvodynia or vulvar pain can be a complex problem to diagnose. The first step in the diagnostic process is getting a pelvic exam. This pelvic exam allows the medical provider to look carefully at the potentially irritated skin of the vulva and make observations. Sometimes, the skin will look irritated or inflamed, but the vulvar exam will often be almost entirely normal. And, even observed abnormalities might look insignificant compared to the reported symptoms.
In addition to getting a simple pelvic exam, the medical provider may also do swabs of the vagina. These swabs are designed to diagnose and determine if an STI can explain the reported symptoms. Medical providers may also perform additional diagnostic tests, including blood work. But, these tests usually fail to yield any helpful information.
Therefore, most medical providers diagnose the problem solely based on reported symptoms and a process of elimination.
Potential Medical Treatments
Even though the medical problem of vulvodynia is mysterious, there are numerous potential medical treatments out there to help women. However, not all medical treatments are effective for everyone, and doctors may need to use trial and error to find the right option.
Steroids and Nerve Blocks
One potential treatment is a combination of steroids to reduce any inflammation in the vulva. When this is not effective, another option may be to use nerve blocks in the areas or other numbing creams. Nerve blocks can provide at least temporary symptom relief, but side effects are possible.
Surgery For Severe Cases
Although extremely rare, in more severe cases or cases in which pelvic exams show extremely irritated or inflamed skin, your doctor will suggest surgery. During surgery, they’ll remove the affected skin, providing dramatic symptom relief for women suffering from this condition. Keep in mind that this can also come with side effects, such as post-surgical infections, so surgery is not something to do lightly. Also, many doctors will recommend considering other treatment options before going down the surgical route.
Given the complexity of diagnosing vulvodynia, a patient and provider must carefully discuss each potential solution’s pros and cons.
Vulvar Pain home Remedy
As noted above, there are numerous potential medical options to treat vulvodynia. However, some women prefer to treat their vulvar pain with home remedies rather than using medical providers. Fortunately, there are several potential options for home treatment. You can try to use coconut oil or a nice emollient to moisturize the vulvar area, it will help to fill the open spaces between the cells in your skin, with fatty substances, called lipids, which make your skin smoother and softer.
One other interesting option to consider for a home remedy is a saltwater bath. If your vulvodynia is due to a bacterial infection, a saltwater bath could do wonders!
Vulvodynia is a mysterious but highly troubling condition that impacts many women. It’s more common in perimenopausal and menopausal women due to drops in their estrogen levels. However, perimenopause and menopause are not the only explanations for vulvodynia. No matter the cause of vulvodynia, there are many potential treatment options, ranging from medical procedures to home remedies.
Be sure to search for a doctor who is able to address it, since it is a mysterious and frequently confusing condition. Sometimes even doctors don’t understand it, which can leave you feeling unsupported and alone. Don’t hesitate to find another doctor if you’re feeling unheard regarding your vulvodynia symptoms.