Millions of women suffer from an unexplained vulva pain so severe, known as vulvodynia, it can make intercourse, exercise and even sitting unbearable.
Vulvodynia, also known as vulvar dysesthesia, literally means pain, or an unpleasant altered sensation, in the vulva. It is characterized by itching, burning, stinging or stabbing in the area around the opening of the vagina. Pain may be unprovoked, varying from constant to intermittent; or occur only on provocation such as attempted vaginal penetration with sexual intercourse.
Symptoms may range from mildly irritating to completely disabling. While a distinct area of redness might be visible, often the vulva and the vagina show no abnormalities or infections on gynecological and/or dermatological evaluation. Unfortunately, many doctors are unaware that these conditions even exist, and may mistakenly suggest to patients that this is a psychological condition. It is common for women with vulvodynia to suffer for many years and see many doctors before being correctly diagnosed.
According to a new University of Michigan Health System study, women with this painful condition are two to three times more likely to also have one or more other chronic pain conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, FM and interstitial cystitis (bladder pain),.
These increasingly prevalent chronic pain conditions are known to be underdiagnosed – and the new data sheds more light on how they may also be related, according the University of Michigan Health System study that was published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
“Millions of people in the U.S. have chronic pain. This report stresses the need to further study relationships between these types of disorders to help understand common patterns and shared features,” says lead author Barbara D. Reed, M.D., M.S.P.H., professor of family medicine at the U-M Medical School, who used data from the six-month follow-up survey of the Michigan Woman to Woman study, a population-based cohort of 2,500 adult women in southeast Michigan.
“Chronic pain conditions like these can seriously hamper quality of life and it’s imperative that we understand the commonality among them. Results we see in any studies related to one of the conditions, such as regarding etiology, physiology, or treatment, may be relevant to any of others.”
Other studies show that chronic pain conditions are much more prevalent than previously estimated, and there has finally been growing interest in understanding the patterns of co-morbidity.
“Women who have these disorders often see physicians but are not given a diagnosis or are given an erroneous diagnosis and continue to suffer without being treated properly,” Reed says. “Until their symptoms have a name, it can be really discouraging because patients begin thinking it’s all in their head.
Chronic pain is, at long last, starting to get a lot more attention, with more research being done on all of these disorders, as well as combinations of these disorders. As such, the identification and treatment of these conditions will/should continue to improve.