Vulvodynia isn't a commonly used word, but if you watched Sex and the City, you probably remember that episode where Charlotte gets diagnosed with a "depressed vagina." Of course, her friends made jokes about the phrase, but a depressed vagina — also known as vulvodynia — is estimated to affect about 16 percent of women. And this type of chronic pain or discomfort is no laughing matter in real life.
What is vulvodynia?
Vulvodynia is pain or discomfort around the vulva — the external part of a female's genitalia — for which there is no identifiable cause and which lasts for at least three months. According to the Mayo Clinic, the pain, burning, or irritation that comes from vulvodynia can be so uncomfortable for some women that having sex or even sitting for too long can become unbearable. The chronic pain or discomfort can last for months on end — or even years in some cases.
What are the signs of vulvodynia?
The pain associated with vulvodynia comes in many different forms. It can be characterized as burning, soreness, stinging, rawness, throbbing, or itching. The timing of the pain varies, too; some women only feel occasional pain when a sensitive area is touched, while other women might feel pain constantly with little relief. According to the National Institute of Health, sometimes vulvodynia is described in more specific terms related to the woman's precise problem. For instance, generalized vulvodynia is pain or discomfort felt in the entire vulvar area, while localized vulvodynia is felt in only one place on the vulva. If you suspect that you might have some form of vulvodynia, definitely see your doctor to rule out any other possible conditions before pursuing any treatment for a depressed vagina.
Vulvodynia Treatment Options
As you might imagine, many women out there are distressed over not knowing the specific cause for vulvodynia. That's why successful treatment of a depressed vagina goes beyond identifying a single trigger and prescribing a single medical treatment, according to the International Journal of Women's Health. The good news is that there are many treatment options available.
In some cases, topical medications might ease chronic pain. In others, pelvic floor therapy to relax the tensions of the muscles in the pelvic floor may provide some great relief. Local anesthetics or nerve block injections are other options that have helped women with vulvodynia feel better. In some more serious cases, surgery might be the best treatment.
But because vulvodynia is not simply a gynecological condition, some women may end up visiting a variety of different types of doctors — such as a dermatologist or pain management specialist, according to the National Vulvodynia Association. Since this is a condition that affects a woman's sexual and emotional well-being, it may also be helpful to see a psychologist or couple's therapist as well.
If you have vulvodynia, talk to your doctor about what treatment is right for you. Remember that you're not alone and that many other women have this condition — and many have felt much better after treatment.
You deserve to be happy — everywhere on your body!