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Question : I was just diagnosed with vulvodynia. What is this condition? Is it treatable?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., is a senior lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition, he is chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. He is the former associate chief of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital Boston.

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July 28, 2011
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A:

Vulvodynia describes pain or other uncomfortable symptoms such as burning, stinging or irritation, located in the skin of the female genitals, also called the vulva.

Treatment depends on its cause. Two categories are used to classify the causes of vulvodynia:

  • Pain caused by a specific disorder
  • Pain without a specific recognizable cause

Specific conditions that cause vulvar pain include:

  • Infection (for example, herpes simplex virus)
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Menopause
  • Cancer (though this is rare)

Your doctor will ask about your health history and examine the vulvar skin to try to identify a specific cause. Treatment to eliminate the cause of the pain will be prescribed.

Many women with vulvar pain do not have an obvious condition to explain their pain. In some cases, the pain is over the entire vulva. In other cases, the pain is limited to one spot. Some women with vulvodynia have pain nearly all the time. In others, the pain may only occur with physical contact.

Vulvodynia not associated with a specific disorder affects about 5% of women. While the cause of pain is not known, doctors suspect that in many cases it is a form of "neuropathic" pain. This means the nerves in the vulvar skin send inappropriate signals of pain.

There is no single best treatment for vulvodynia if no specific underlying disorder is identified. Good vulvar care is always essential. Avoid irritants such as scented pads and tight fitting clothes. Cool packs applied to the skin may be helpful. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to relax muscle spasms in the pelvis.

To help quiet overactive pain nerves, your doctor may prescribe a medication that treats “neuropathic pain,” such as gabapentin.

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