What Is Vulvodynia, and How Do You Know if You Have It?
If you’re anything like us, you might find yourself learning something new on TikTok every day. Whether it’s a life hack that, as the famous audio says, has become an unconscious standard practice in your life or, perhaps, something that was skipped over in your high school's Sex Ed class, TikTok can be an extremely informative tool when used correctly.
However, as with anything you read or learn on the internet, you should always fact-check what you hear on TikTok by conducting simple, well-accredited research of your own.
For example, there is currently a trending hashtag about vulvodynia. From sexual health specialists to women wanting to share their own knowledge with others, the videos accompanying the hashtag are full of information, explaining what vulvodynia is, what the symptoms are, as well as potential treatment options.
Now let's cross-reference some of the information about vulvodynia found on TikTok with the actual facts about this lesser-known medical phenomenon.
What is vulvodynia?
Based on the name itself, you may have already guessed that vulvodynia affects your vulva or the external part of your vagina. Vulvodynia is a chronic pain that affects your vulva for at least 3 months or longer. This pain is not the result of a vaginal infection, skin condition, or other medical condition.
According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, vulvodynia is most likely caused by a number of factors working in tandem. For instance, it may be caused by nerve damage, irritation, or inflammation of the vulva, an undiagnosed sensitivity to certain foods, genetic disorders, or the culmination of long-term reactions to specific infections. Vulvodynia could also be the result of muscular dysfunction in the pelvic floor or conditions affecting muscles or bones in surrounding areas.
How do you know if you have vulvodynia?
Vulvodynia has really distinct symptoms. If you click on any TikTok video with the trending hashtag, you will most likely hear the words “pain during intimacy or tampon use,” “itching,” “burning,” “raw,” and “sore” — just to name a few.
All of these descriptors seem to be true. The pain caused by vulvodynia is most commonly described as burning, stinging, irritating, and raw. You will most likely experience aching, soreness, throbbing, and swelling in your vulva area as well.
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The area affected by the pain may be acutely concentrated in one spot or on the entire vulva, and your symptoms might fluctuate from constant pain to something that comes and goes. Additionally, your symptoms can begin without warning, and some people only experience pain and discomfort when the area itself is being touched.
Is there a treatment for vulvodynia?
The trick with treating vulvodynia is that there are several options, but no one method will always work for everyone. In fact, according to the National Vulvodynia Association, experts typically recommend a multidisciplinary approach, utilizing a mix of treatment tactics. Finding the best treatment for you will likely be a trial and error process, figuring out which treatment combinations provide you with the most relief.
Because vulvodynia is not strictly a gynecological condition, seeking the help of multiple healthcare professionals can be beneficial to some. If the treatment prescribed by your gynecologist does not provide relief for the chronic pain, you may be advised to see a women’s health physical therapist or a pain management specialist.
While there are many courses of treatment for this chronic pain, a few common options include the discontinuation of irritants to the vulva area, oral “pain-blocking” medications, topical medications, — such as hormone creams, anesthetics, or compounded formulations — pelvic floor muscle therapy, nerve blockers, and diet modifications.
Vulvodynia: Playing the long game
The National Vulvodynia Association reports that research into treatment and causes of this chronic pain disorder is ongoing. They even provide up-to-date research from current studies.
If you have any of these symptoms and haven’t been able to figure out a cause, schedule an appointment with your gynecologist to discuss the possibility that you have this chronic condition. Working with a team of professional healthcare providers can bring you the relief and comfort you deserve.
Brighid Flynn is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia where she lives with her husband and puppy. She is just beginning her journey toward motherhood.