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Vulvodynia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

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Women with vulvodynia have chronic vulvar pain with no known cause. Until recently, doctors didn’t recognize this as a real pain syndrome. Even today, many women do not receive a diagnosis. They may also remain isolated by a condition that is not easy to discuss. Researchers are working hard to uncover the causes of vulvodynia and to find better ways to treat it.

Types of Vulvodynia

Vulvodynia affects the vulva, the external female genital organs. This includes the labia, clitoris, and vaginal opening.

There are two main subtypes of vulvodynia:
 

  • Generalized vulvodynia is pain in different areas of the vulva at different times. Vulvar pain may be constant or occur every once in a while. Touch or pressure may or may not prompt it. But this may make the pain worse.
  • Vulvar vestibulitis syndrome is pain in the vestibule. This is the entrance to the vagina. Often a burning sensation, this type of vulvar pain comes on only after touch or pressure, such as during intercourse.

Possible Causes of Vulvodynia

Doctors don’t know the cause of most forms ofvulvodynia. And there is no evidence that infections, such as sexually transmitted diseases, cause vulvodynia.

Researchers are trying to find the causes of vulvodynia. They may include:

  • Nerve injury or irritation
  • Abnormal response in vulvar cells to an infection or trauma
  • Genetic factors that make the vulva respond poorly to chronic inflammation
  • Hypersensitivity to yeast infections
  • Muscle spasms
  • Allergies or irritation to chemicals or other substances
  • Hormonal changes
  • History of sexual abuse
  • Frequent antibiotic use

Women with Vulvodynia: Who Has It?

A woman of any age, beginning in her teen years, may have vulvodynia. Estimates of women with vulvodynia range from 200,000 to six million. Once thought to mainly affect white females, African-American and Hispanic women are now known to be equally affected.

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