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Vulvodynia (vulval pain)

Vulvodynia, sometimes called vestibulitis, is a condition that causes persistent pain in the vulva. There isn’t usually a clear cause. In some cases, any kind of pressure or touch might be painful. There are a few different ways to treat vulvodynia and relieve the pain.

What is vulvodynia?

Vulvodynia affects up to 12% of women of any age, but is most common in women between the ages of 15 and 30 who haven’t had a vaginal childbirth. The pain can impact relationships, lower libido, cause problems with mental health, and affect everyday life. There usually isn’t one simple cause of vulvodynia, and experts still don’t fully understand the condition. 

It’s not always easy to talk about pain and sensitivity around the vulva or vaginal opening. If you’re experiencing pain or a stinging sensation in the vulva, it’s important to speak to a doctor. Without the right care, it’s possible that the pain could worsen over time, but there are treatments that can help you find relief. 

 

Vulvodynia symptoms

Vulvodynia causes

Vulvodynia complications

You may experience other problems alongside vulvodynia, like painful periods, vaginismus (when the muscles around the vagina tighten), a painful bladder condition called interstitial cystitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Because of the effect that vulvodynia can have on your daily life, it can also lead to emotional problems like:

  • Sex and relationship difficulties

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Body image problems

  • It can be challenging to talk about the emotional effect the condition is having on you. But it’s a good idea to discuss these issues with a doctor if you can. They’re here to listen and will be able to offer help and support.

Diagnosis and treatment for vulvodynia

If you’ve got pain in or around the vagina or vulva, it’s important to seek advice from a doctor. A gynaecological examination might be necessary. It’s also important for a doctor to understand what your symptoms are, what the pain feels like, when it happens, and what makes it better or worse.

Vulvodynia is specifically defined as a long-term painful condition lasting at least six months. There is no medication that can cure vulvodynia entirely, but a combination of different treatments can often relieve the symptoms. A doctor might recommend a few options, for example stopping hormone-based contraceptives, using desensitising gel and trying muscle-relaxing exercises.

Sexual advice, counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) may also help. In some cases, a doctor might recommend taking a low dose of antidepressants.

If you have pain in a specific part of your vulva, a doctor may recommend injections of local anaesthetic and steroids to provide temporary relief.

Lifestyle changes to help vulvodynia

If you have vulvodynia, it’s best to steer clear of anything that irritates the vulva. And if you’ve got a partner, try talking to them about your problem so that they understand that penetrative sex can be painful for you.

There are lots of lifestyle changes that can help to reduce symptoms too:

  • wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes
  • avoid scented hygiene products, like feminine wipes, bubble bath and soap
  • apply cool gel packs to your vulva to relieve the pain
  • use petroleum jelly before swimming to protect the vulva from chlorine
  • try not to avoid sex or touching your vulva completely, as this may make your vulva more sensitive – or try other positions that may be more comfortable
  • take steps to reduce stress, as this can help with reducing pain
  • sit on a cushion if you are finding it uncomfortable to sit down

When to speak to a doctor

Always seek medical help if you’re experiencing pain in or around your vagina or vulva. When left untreated, the symptoms of vulvodynia can get worse, and there are several ways to help you relieve them.

Diagnosing vulvodynia requires a physical examination, but you can speak to a Livi GP for advice and information. A doctor will make an individual assessment, based on your symptoms and then decide on whether you need a prescription or referral for treatment.

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

Lead GP at Livi

Last updated:

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