Vulvodynia

Vulvodynia is a chronic pain condition that affects the vulval area in the absence of any obvious skin condition or infection. The condition is characterised by vulval burning and soreness, usually as a consequence of irritation or hypersensitivity of the nerve fibres in the vulval area.

Often Misunderstood and Misdiagnosed

Often there is no identifiable cause, though some women have a sudden onset of symptoms following a specific event; commonly a severe attack of thrush followed by anti-thrush treatment, or after giving birth. Since it’s not a well-known condition amongst health professionals, vulvodynia is often misdiagnosed as a yeast infection, a skin condition or as purely psychological. It’s worth noting that topical Thrush treatments (anti-fungals) can make things worse, so it is crucial to get a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment before the condition becomes chronic and more difficult to manage.

10 Facts About Vulvodynia (text co-authored with the Vulval Pain Society)

1. Vulvodynia is a chronic pain condition that affects the vulval area in the absence of any obvious skin condition or infection.

2. The chance of a woman developing vulvodynia in her lifetime is 16%

3. Vulvodynia should be considered in all women who present with vulval pain or painful sex in the absence of any skin condition or infection. The condition has many different presentations from constant vulval burning (unprovoked pain) to pain with tampon use and penetrative sex (provoked pain)

4. Women with vulvodynia are commonly misdiagnosed as having ‘thrush’ or candida infections.

5. The impact of vulvodynia on a woman can be significant. It can have a detrimental effect on self-esteem, general and sexual function, quality of life, work and relationships.

6. Treatments can vary according to the needs of the woman. For many this can lead to less pain, sexual recovery and improved function.

7. These treatments can range from pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation, pain modifying drugs, desensitisation techniques
such as massage and the use of vaginal dilators.

8. Vulvodynia involves the body and mind. Many women will benefit from self-help measures to reduce internal stress.

9. Access to treatment can be difficult in the current UK health system and some women with complex needs might require referral to a vulval service.

10. Self-management through education are crucial first steps.

For further information for health professionals and patients please go to www.bssvd.org

What vulvodynia is NOT:

* It is NOT a sexually transmitted infection and cannot be passed on to a partner.

* It is NOT a form of vaginismus (involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles), though vaginismus can develop as a response to pain in the vagina or vulva.

* It is a real physical condition and does NOT  have a psychological cause. Psychological distress may develop as a consequence of ongoing pain or discomfort and in this instance women (and their partners) may benefit from seeing a psychologist or psychosexual counsellor.

For comprehensive information about vulvodynia (and vulval pain), and for support in managing the condition, contact The Vulval Pain Society.

If you think you may have vulvodynia, you may wish to download the Vulval Pain Society’s PreClinic Questionnaire, which can be filled in and taken to your GP or sexual health clinic.