The main vulvodynia symptom is pain in your genital area, which can be characterized by:
- Painful intercourse (dyspareunia)
The pain you experience may be constant or occasional and can last for months or even years, but it can vanish as suddenly as it started. You may feel the pain in your entire vulvar area (generalized), or it may be localized to a certain area, such as the opening of your vagina (vestibule).
A similar condition, vestibulodynia, may cause pain only when pressure is applied to the area surrounding the entrance to your vagina.
Vulvar tissue may look minimally inflamed or swollen. More often, your vulva appears normal.
When to see a doctor
Although women often don't tell their doctors about the problem, vulvodynia is a fairly common condition.
If you experience pain in your genital area, discuss it with your doctor, or ask for a referral to a gynecologist. It's important to have your doctor rule out more easily treatable causes of vulvar pain, such as yeast or bacterial infections, other skin conditions, and medical problems such as diabetes. It's also important not to repeatedly use over-the-counter treatments for yeast infections without seeing your doctor. Once your doctor has evaluated your particular symptoms, he or she can recommend treatments or ways to help you manage your pain.
Doctors don't know what causes vulvodynia, but contributing factors may include:
- Injury to or irritation of the nerves surrounding your vulvar region
- Past vaginal infections
- Allergies or sensitive skin
- Hormonal changes
Many women with vulvodynia have a history of treatment for recurrent vaginitis or vaginal yeast infections. Some women with the condition have a history of sexual abuse. But most women with vulvodynia have no known causes. Vulvodynia isn't sexually transmitted or a sign of cancer.
Because it can be painful and frustrating and can keep you from wanting to have sex, vulvodynia can cause emotional problems. For example, fear of having sex can cause spasms in the muscles around your vagina (vaginismus). Other complications may include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Sexual dysfunction
- Altered body image
- Relationship problems
- Decreased quality of life