Vulvodynia is a painful condition that is difficult to diagnose and treat. In fact, many women go undiagnosed for years. UT Health Austin physician assistant Teresa Reed discusses the nature of the condition and what women can do to diagnose and treat vulvodynia.
Explaining the condition
Vulvodynia is a big, fancy word for “vulva,” meaning external genitals (the vagina is on the inside, vulva on the outside), and “dynia,” meaning pain. It’s pain on the external genitals.
Teresa says, “You know women don’t often come in saying, I have pain. They say things like, “ I have burning, irritation, pain during sex at times, pins and needles feeling.” “When they come in, we rule out all those other things that can cause those conditions. By definition, vulvodynia is the absence of physical findings, it is a musculoskeletal, neuropathic condition.”
Can women live with vulvodynia their whole life?
Yes, vulvodynia may last a lifetime and can be severe or mild. Women suffer with the simple activities like sitting for prolonged periods or struggle with more complex issues like having pain with sex or in between periods. Pain can be intermittent or can be chronic and can affect a women’s mental as well as her physical health.
Teresa wants women to know that vulvodynia is something that is very treatable. “If they will just come in, and confide in us then we can help them.”
What can women do to treat vulvodynia symptoms?
For some patients, lifestyle adjustments such as avoiding tight, fitting synthetic clothing and switching to cotton or using personal hygiene products with no perfumes or dyes can help. In some cases, your provider may recommend a topical medication. However, some patients may benefit from a more interdisciplinary approach such as talking to a social worker or psychiatrist to work through relationship issues with a partner or a dietitian for food advice or pelvic floor physical therapist. (Avoid these vulvar irritants for symptomatic relief.)
At Women’s Health, a clinical partnership between UT Health Austin and Ascension Seton, we take a multidisciplinary approach to patient care. Our care team is made up of physical therapists, dietitians, mental health providers, and medical providers, and we put women in the center of that care and give her all those modalities and support to get better. We also ask about her goals, we ask her to be a part of her healthcare team, and we are seeing success.
What do you recommend for someone living with vulvodynia?
“We want women to know, there is help. It is treatable and they shouldn’t suffer in silence.”
For more information or make an appointment with Women’s Health, visit here or call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737).