Are you experiencing severe pain in the vulva that doctors have not been able to diagnose? If yes, you could be suffering from vulvodynia. Vulvodynia is a complex condition that affects women of every age. Despite this, vulvodynia is not well-research so patients generally have numerous questions about the disorder.
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about vulvodynia.
- What Is Vulvodynia?
Vulvodynia is chronic pain in the vulva (the opening of the vagina). It is defined as pain, burning, or rawness that lasts for more than three months.
The pain associated with vulvodynia is not the same for every patient. Some patients experience debilitating pain that persists, while others have pain intermittently. Vulvodynia pain may also be spontaneous or only occur when pressure is applied to the vulva.
- What Are The Symptoms of Vulvodynia?
Pain is the primary symptom of vulvodynia, and it may be burning, stabbing, or searing, and often occurs with intercourse. Activities such as sitting, walking, and exercising are often a challenge for women with vulvodynia due to the intensity of the pain. Other symptoms of vulvodynia include an abnormal vaginal odor, stinging, rawness, and irritation.
- What Causes Vulvodynia?
The underlying etiology of vulvodynia is an altered vaginal microflora pattern. An altered vaginal microflora pattern indicates that there has been a shift in the bacterial milieu. The vaginal microflora is normally dominated by ‘good’ bacteria known as lactobacilli.
When the balance of bacteria is disrupted, it can cause the ‘bad’ bacteria to multiply and dominate the good bacteria. The resulting vaginal secretions irritate the vestibular tissue and bring about the symptoms associated with vulvodynia.
- How Is Vulvodynia Diagnosed?
Traditionally, vulvodynia was diagnosed using the wet prep pelvic exam. However, there is now a more innovative tool available, known as the vaginal fluid analysis (VFA) test.
The VFA test is an advanced diagnostic tool developed by vulvovaginal specialist Dr. R. Stuart Fowler. The VFA test analyses the constituents of the vaginal fluid to detect if the vaginal microflora is normal or in an altered state.
- How Is Vulvodynia Treated?
Vulvodynia is treated with a customized treatment protocol formulated based on the results of the VFA test. The VFA test delivers a quantitative analysis of the constituents of the vaginal fluid. If the test confirms that there is an altered microflora pattern, treatment will involve correcting the imbalance in the vaginal microbiome.
FGI also recommends the use of hypocontactant skincare products for women with vulvodynia. This is an important component of treatment because many women with vulvodynia have sensitive external genital tissues.
Hypocontactant skincare products are free of dyes, fragrances, detergents, and other chemicals that can irritate the vaginal tissues and bring on symptoms of vulvodynia. Patients should avoid using traditional hygiene products such as soaps, douches, and bubble baths.
- How Soon Will I See Results?
Patients generally experience an improvement in symptoms after 4-6 months on the treatment protocol. However, it can take up to 12 months for all the symptoms to resolve. The characteristics of the microflora will determine the response time for each patient. The symptoms of vulvodynia will resolve when the balance is restored to the vaginal microflora.