Women's Issues: Vulvodynia
Below the Belt
If you have fibromyalgia, you're familiar with the idea that every symptom can mean a new and painful manifestation of the disease. Sometimes these symptoms aren't so easy to discuss with a physician, since they can, in the literal sense, hit below the belt in a place we're not so comfortable discussing. One such condition is vulvodynia.
Vulvodynia is a pain in the pelvis that hangs around much too long; the classic unwanted visitor. The pain makes it hard to sit or have sex, and there doesn't seem to be much you can do about the burning sensation and irritation.
No Outward Signs
Vulvodynia is chronic pain in the area of your vulva, at the aperture of the vagina. It's not known how many women are affected by this condition, since many may be too embarrassed to discuss their symptoms with their physicians. This, plus the fact that there are no outward signs of vulvar pain, means that experts just don't know the exact number of sufferers. Doctors believe that as many as one in six women will suffer from the condition during their lifetimes. One survey showed that as many as 16% of women from the ages of 18-64 had symptoms of at least 3 months' duration with almost half of them opting not to see their physicians for treatment. In women afflicted with fibromyalgia, as many as 65% may suffer from vulvodynia.
The pain of vulvodynia is described as throbbing, burning, stinging, itchy, sore, raw, and is often a cause of painful intercourse. The vulvar area tends to appear normal, but sometimes shows signs of swelling and inflammation. The pain may last months or even years, come and go, or disappear without so much as a fare-thee-well, never to come back again.
Vulvodynia may have many contributory factors such as preexisting conditions that cause constant muscle spasms in the pelvic region, lowered estrogen levels due to menopause, hypersensitivity of the skin, a history of past vaginal infections, and damaged vulvar nerves. While it is known that women who have had vaginitis or yeast infections are more prone to the condition, there is no apparent connection to sexually transmitted diseases. There is also no known correlation between vulvodynia and cancer. A high percentage of women with vulvodynia were sexually abused at some time in their lives.
Genital pain may be a source of embarrassment, but it's nonetheless important to seek treatment, since not all genital pain is due to vulvodynia. Your doctor needs to rule out ailments that can and should be treated such as infection, diabetes, and pain-producing skin conditions. After a full workup your doctor should be able to suggest pain management techniques and therapies that can help relieve your symptoms.