Vulvar pain: What are the causes?

The term “vulva” refers to the external female genitalia. Various circumstances, ranging from riding a bicycle to cancer, can cause pain or discomfort in these delicate tissues.

According to studies, up to 16% of females in the United States suffer from vulvar pain. This can have an impact on a person’s quality of life, and it may also indicate the presence of a medical condition that requires care.

In certain circumstances, lifestyle changes can assist to alleviate the discomfort.

This article looks at the causes of vulvar pain, as well as therapeutic methods and home cures that may help.

When to see a doctor

Some people may find discussing vulvar pain or discomfort with their doctor to be embarrassing.

It’s important to remember that the doctor is a skilled specialist who can assist you with any medical problem. However, if a female doctor is more comfortable for the patient during the session, it may be possible to request one.

Vulvar pain can have a negative impact on one’s quality of life. It can sometimes suggest a medical condition that requires treatment, such as an infection or cancer.

For the majority of vulvar pain causes, a doctor can offer appropriate treatment choices.

What exactly is the vulva?

In females, the vulva is the region that contains the external genitals. It is made up of a number of different structures, including:

The labia majora, or outer lips: The vagina and other vulvar structures are surrounded by these skin folds. The outside surfaces are generally covered in hair.

The labia minora, or inner lips: These are the interior skin folds, which are smaller. They don’t have any hair on their heads. The prepuce, or hood, is a tiny structure that shields the clitoris and connects the labia minora.

The clitoris: The clitoris is a little bit of tissue with a lot of nerve endings in it. During sexual stimulation, it expands with blood.

The vestibule: Small Bartholin glands line the entry of the vaginal canal, or vestibule. During sexual action, they release a fluid that functions as a lubricant.

Vulvar pain can arise in any of these structures and for a variety of reasons.

The vulva
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Causes

Vulvar pain can be caused by a variety of causes, including:

Infections

Both yeast and bacterial infections can cause pain, which can range from minor discomfort and itching to severe burning or throbbing.

Vulvar pain and discomfort can also be caused by viral and bacterial illnesses such as bacterial vaginosis and the herpes simplex virus.

Chronic pain syndromes

According to research, women with vulvodynia are more prone to suffer from another chronic pain condition.

Fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis, and irritable bowel syndrome are examples of co-occurring illnesses.

Allergies

Allergies to soaps or hygiene products can cause the vaginal area, causing pain, discomfort, and irritation. Inflammation is also a possibility.

Damage to tissue and nerves

The vulva has nerve endings and sensitive tissues. These nerve endings can be damaged during childbirth, sexual activity, or riding a bicycle or horse, resulting in pain and suffering.

Disorders of the nervous system

Nerve damage, neuropathy, and Tarlov cysts are all possible causes of vulvar pain.

Tarlov cysts develop at the base of the spine, affecting or involving nerve roots. They can also cause pain in the vulvar area.

Hormonal changes

Menopause and menstruation bring about hormonal changes. Swollen, inflammatory, or dry and painful tissues can cause from these alterations.

After menopause, some women may develop genitourinary syndrome. Dry vagina, vulvar pain, pain during sex, and bladder difficulties are all symptoms of this condition.

What causes sex to be so painful? More information can be found here.

Disorders of the skin

Vulvar pain can also be caused by a variety of skin conditions.

They are as follows:

Folliculitis: Small, red, painful lumps can form when bacteria invade a hair follicle.

Contact dermatitis: Using certain soaps, textiles, and scents might cause itching, stinging, and pain.

Bartholin gland cyst: A cyst can cause if one of these glands becomes blocked, which can be unpleasant.

Lichen simplex chronicus: Long-term contact dermatitis or another skin condition can result in thicker, scaly plaques that are extremely irritating.

Lichen sclerosus: This might cause color and texture changes in the skin. During sex, there may be pain and the skin may tear easily.

Lichen planus: There may be pink pimples or lumps on the skin, as well as a white surface or white streaks.

Cancer

Cancer patient

Vulvar cancer develops when abnormal cells form in the vulva’s tissues. This cancer has the potential to cause pain in the affected area.

Vulvar cancer symptoms include:

  • open sores that last for a month or more
  • changes in skin color
  • thickening of the skin
  • itching, burning, and pain
  • inflammation
  • lumps, which may have a wart-like or raw surface

Depending on the type of cancer, there may also be:

  • red, scaly skin, which may indicate Paget’s disease
  • changes in the shape, size, or color of a mole
  • discharge

Genital warts can be caused by a variety of factors. The majority of them are benign, however some can be malignant. Anyone experiencing new or unexplained changes to the vulva’s skin should consult a doctor to determine what is causing them.

Vulvar cancer makes up 0.7 percent of all cancers in the United States, and one out of every 333 women will develop it at some point in their life.

Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia

Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia is a term used to describe cell alterations that are not cancerous but may become cancerous in the future.

Itching, burning, and changes in skin color and texture are all possible symptoms of the condition. These will most likely be treated by a healthcare provider in order to prevent cancer from forming in the future.

Symptoms

Vulvar pain can be described in the following ways by females who have it:

  • stabbing
  • aching
  • throbbing
  • itching
  • burning
  • stinging
  • irritated
  • raw

Localized pain occurs in one spot. The entire vulva is affected by generalized pain.

Pain can be triggered by pressure or touch, or it might strike without warning or provocation. The pain may come and go for some women, while it might be chronic for others.

Vulvar pain can be triggered by the following activities:

  • wearing tight or form fitting jeans
  • sitting
  • sexual activity
  • inserting a tampon

Vestibulodynia is pain and discomfort caused by pressure at the vaginal entrance. Vulvodynia is a term used to describe pain that lasts for three months or longer and has no known cause.

Vulvodynia and vestibulodynia are caused by nerve ending hypersensitivity in the vulva’s skin.

Treatment

The treatment for vulvar pain is determined by the cause.

A physician may prescribe:

  • hormone therapy to manage menopause-related changes
  • surgery to repair an injury
  • pain relief medication to ease discomfort
  • medication to treat an infection
  • topical steroids to relieve allergies

A therapist or physical therapist can assist in the relief of tight muscles as well as the treatment of persistent pain and anxiety.

Treatment for cancer

Depending on the type and degree of the cancer, a healthcare provider will usually propose surgery, as well as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both, if there are indicators of cancer or precancer.

Non-pharmaceutical treatments

Other therapy possibilities could include:

Biofeedback

By teaching a person how to relax their pelvic floor muscles, this may help minimize vulvar pain. Biofeedback can also aid in the management of a person’s body’s response to pain triggers.

Topical anesthetics

These are mainly nerve numbing ointments. To avoid or reduce feelings of pain or discomfort, apply these 20–30 minutes before sexual activity.

Pelvic floor therapy

This can help relax the pelvic muscles and ease muscular pain and tension in some circumstances. These muscles support the bladder, uterus, and rectum, which are all located in the pelvis. It also aids in their relaxation.

Exercises, massage, soft tissue manipulation, and joint mobilization are some of the other physical therapy techniques.

Nerve blocks

If pain is interfering with a person’s daily life and other treatments or therapies have failed, a nerve block may be an option.

A numbing drug will be injected into the nerves that feed the external genitals by a medical practitioner. This works by blocking pain receptors and alleviating discomfort in the area.

Home remedies

Using 100% cotton menstrual pads
Vulvar pain can be avoided by using 100 percent cotton menstruation pads and tampons.

Several home remedies can help relieve vulva pain and discomfort. The following are some of them.

Being mindful of hygiene products: Females with vulvar pain should avoid scented items or harsh soaps because they can aggravate the area.

They should also strive to choose period pads and tampons made entirely of cotton and avoid goods made of plastic or synthetic materials.

Not douching: There is no need to use douches or other cleansers because the vagina is self-cleaning. These products can irritate the vulvar area, especially if there is vulvar pain or discomfort.

No cosmetic product is perfect for putting into the vagina.

Bathing the vulva: Using warm water, rinse the genital area and pat it dry with a towel.

Getting support: Vulvodynia can have a negative impact on a person’s self-esteem and interpersonal relationships. People and their spouses can learn to handle the condition with the help of support groups and therapists. A doctor can provide recommendations for local contacts.

Avoiding tight clothing: Vulvar pain can be triggered by tight clothing and synthetic textiles like spandex or Lycra. Cotton clothing with a loose fit is the least likely to cause problems.

Using sitz baths: Irritation can be relieved by sitting in a few inches of warm water with a teaspoon of Epsom salt.

Sources:

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430792/
  • https://www.aafp.org/afp/2006/0401/p1231.html
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3566870/
  • https://www.cancer.org/cancer/vulvar-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html
  • https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/9258/tarlov-cysts

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