Vulvodynia is a syndrome of unknown etiology characterized by chronic vulvar discomfort that can result in both physical and emotional pain in the lives of affected women. Medical textbooks recognized Vulvodynia around the turn of the 20th century. This disease went unnoticed in society until a dramatic increase in the number of cases once again brought Vulvodynia to attention in the mid-1980's. Although an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 women have Vulvodynia in the United States, very little is known about how this painful condition can be prevented, treated or cured.
Vulvodynia is often characterized by burning discomfort, itching, throbbing, or tenderness of the vulva - sometimes in the labia, sometimes around the opening of the vagina, sometimes affecting the vestibular glands - which may be experienced either as diffused irritation or as specific painful spots.
There is an urgent need for information about the causes of vulvodynia and its effective prevention, treatment and cure. Currently, therapeutic interventions are taking place without adequate understanding of the disease because women suffering from this debilating syndrome need relief from their pain.
The pain has lasted for months. You're so uncomfortable you can hardly sit. Sex is unthinkable. Nothing alleviates the pain, burning and irritation - at least not for long.
These descriptions may be characteristics of a lasting pain in the area around the opening of your vagina (vulva) called vulvodynia (vul-vo-DIN-ee-uh) or chronic vulvar pain. Some research suggests the disorder may affect as many as one in six women at some point in their lives. There are several reasons vulvodynia may be underreported. It may be partly due to the absence of visible signs of the condition. Or it could be the reluctance of many women to talk about their symptoms.
If you or someone you know is living with chronic vulvar pain, don't hesitate to get help. Treatment options are available to lessen the pain.
The actual cause of vulvodynia is unknown; it may be the result of multiple factors. Doctors don't know what causes vulvodynia, but contributing factors may include:
Many women with vulvodynia have a history of treatment for recurrent vaginal yeast infections. Some women with the condition have a history of sexual abuse. Vulvodynia isn't sexually transmitted or a sign of cancer.
If you experience pain in your genital area, discuss it with your doctor, or ask for a referral to a gynecologist. It's important to have your doctor rule out treatable causes of vulvar pain, such as yeast or bacterial infections, skin conditions, and medical problems such as diabetes and kidney or liver disease (cirrhosis). Once your doctor has evaluated your particular symptoms, he or she can recommend treatments or ways to help you manage your pain.
Chronic vulvar pain, whether intermittent or constant, can be a debilitating symptom that deserves appropriate work-up and disease specific therapy. As the millenium draws to a close, it is unwarranted and unjustified that a woman should have to live with the fear of suffering from such pain or being told that it's "all in your head."
There is hope associated with treating this disorder, and vulvodynia patients need to be directed toward health care providers who are interested, dedicated and competent in helping them.
A woman with chronic vestibulitis may trace the onset of the pain to inflammation due to irritants (shampoo, soap, detergent, feminine hygiene products) or with infection or other trauma to the tissue. However, the symptoms can appear with no known cause or may be associated with several causes or a sequence of contributing factors, including response to medical or surgical treatments. Symptoms may also progress.
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