Is this topic for you?
This topic is for women
who have vulvodynia, a type of vulvar pain with no known cause. If your doctor has told you that the pain in your vulva is caused by something else, like an infection or a skin
problem, see the topic
Female Genital Problems and Injuries.
What is vulvodynia?
Vulvodynia is pain in the vulva that can't be explained by another health problem, such as an infection or a skin problem. The vulva is the area around the
opening of your vagina.
The main parts of the vulva are:
- The clitoris. This is the small, sensitive female organ that gets aroused during sex.
- The labia. These are the folds of skin that cover the vagina and the opening of the urethra.
- The opening of the urethra. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of your body.
See a picture of the vulva .
What causes vulvodynia?
Doctors don't know the exact
cause of vulvodynia. But some things that may help cause it include:
- Swelling of or injury to the nerves of the vulva.
- Spasms or weakness of the muscles that support the
organs of the pelvis .
- A family history of vulvodynia.
most cases, vulvar pain is a symptom of some other problem. And when that
problem is treated, the pain often goes away. Some conditions that may cause
vulvar pain include yeast infections and other vaginal infections, atrophic vaginitis, lichen sclerosus, lichen planus, or an allergic reaction to soaps or other products, such as vaginal sprays or douches.
What are the symptoms?
Pain is the main symptom of vulvodynia. Depending on the person, the pain may:
- Be felt only in one spot, such as
near the opening of the vagina, and only when something
touches that area. This is called localized vulvodynia. Or you may feel the pain on or around most of the vulva, even when nothing touches those areas.
This is called generalized vulvodynia.
- Be constant or come and go
for months or even years.
- Be mild or very bad.
- Be felt
during and after sex.
- Flare up when
you sit on a bicycle, put in a tampon, or wipe your vulva.
Other symptoms may include:
- Burning or stinging.
How is vulvodynia diagnosed?
Your doctor will first
ask you about your past health, your sexual history, and your symptoms. Then he or she
will do a pelvic exam to rule out other possible causes for your pain, such as
an infection or a skin problem.
During the exam, your doctor may use
a cotton swab to touch different areas on and around your vulva to see where
the pain is and how bad it is. If he or she sees a problem or any skin
changes, you may need a biopsy. This means that your doctor will remove a small piece of tissue from your vulva and send it to a lab to be studied for the cause of your pain. Your doctor may also recommend an exam called a
colposcopy to take a closer look at the cells on your
If a cause for your pain is not found, you may have
How is it treated?
There are many
treatments for vulvodynia, but what works for someone else may not help you.
Work with your doctor to find what is best for you. Even though there is no
cure, treatment can help you feel better and lead a full and active life.
- Medicines. Some examples are antidepressants,
seizure medicines, nerve blocks, and medicated
creams. These can help make the tissues of the vulva less sensitive.
And antihistamines can help relieve
- Biofeedback. This treatment can
help you learn how to control and relax your pelvic muscles. Tightness or
spasms in these muscles can make vulvar pain worse.
- Physical therapy. Specific exercises can help you strengthen your pelvic muscles.
- Estrogen creams. Putting this cream on your skin can help relieve pain.
- Surgery. In rare cases, surgery is done to remove tissue that is very sensitive.
There are other things you can try to
relieve your symptoms:
- Always clean your vulva gently.
- Avoid soaps and other products, such as vaginal sprays or douches, that irritate your skin.
- Wear loose-fitting cotton
clothes. Avoid nylon and other fabrics that hold moisture close to the skin.
This may cause irritation and allow an infection to start.
hot baths, and don't use soaps or bath products to wash your vulva. Rinse
with water only, and gently pat the area dry.
- Relieve itching and
pain with a cold water compress or cool baths. Don't scratch the
- Try using a vaginal lubricant, such as Astroglide or K-Y
Jelly, to reduce irritation from having sex.
- Stay active. But
limit exercises that can irritate the vulva, such as bike riding or horseback
How can you live better with vulvodynia?
When you have vulvodynia, you may find it hard to do your daily tasks. It
may hurt to walk, exercise, or sit for long periods of time. And it may hurt to
have sex. All of these things can affect your life, work, and
At times you may feel overwhelmed, tired, and angry.
These feelings are normal. Most women who have vulvar pain feel this way at
one time or another.
Even though living with vulvar pain can be
stressful, the good news is that you can do some simple things to feel
- See a counselor. Cognitive-behavioral therapy allows you to express
your emotions and concerns and to learn new ways of coping with vulvar pain.
Sex therapy can also help you and your partner find ways to be intimate that
don't cause pain.
- Keep a pain diary. You can track
moods, thoughts, activities, and medicines that affect pain. Having a record of
pain can help you and your doctor find the best ways to treat it.
- Get support from other women. A support group, online forum, or chat group helps you share your concerns and hear how
other people cope with the pain and challenges of living with
- Practice relaxation and breathing exercises. Meditation and
guided imagery are two examples of how you can reduce stress and relax your mind and muscles.
Organization American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Chronic Female Pelvic Pain
- Female Genital Problems and Injuries
- Menopause and Perimenopause
- Sexual Problems in Women