- Symptoms & Signs
- Risk Factors
What is vaginal pain (vulvodynia)?
Vulvodynia refers to pain in the area of the vulva and vaginal opening. Vulvodynia is considered pain for which there is no known cause. It is different from the pain that is located deep in the pelvis or internally in the vagina. This article focuses on pain in the vulvar region and at the opening (introitus) of the vagina. Deeper vaginal pain can also occur due to infections, tumors, and conditions that cause more generalized pain in the pelvic organs.
- Vaginal pain can be chronic and can last for years in some women.
- The degree of severity varies among women.
- It often occurs in the absence of physical signs or visible abnormalities.
- It can be severe and can interfere with sexual activity and cause painful intercourse (dyspareunia).
- However, there are several other causes of vaginal pain during or after sex.
What are the symptoms and signs of vaginal pain?
The pain of vulvodynia can be debilitating and interfere with daily activities and sexual intercourse. It can make women feel a loss of control of their bodies, causing profound emotional and physical discomfort.
Symptoms of vulvodynia and vaginal pain may include:
- Burning or stinging pain in the vulva or vaginal opening
- Sharp, aching, or throbbing pain in the vagina or vulva
- Vaginal itching, sometimes with pain
- Pain that is constant or comes and goes
- Pain that occurs during sex or exercise
Some women report pain that is localized to one side or one area of the vulva, while others have more generalized and widespread pain. Usually, no physical signs or changes occur in and around the vagina with vulvodynia; however, sometimes the skin may be inflamed.
What causes vaginal pain?
Some theories suggest that vulvodynia may be related to:
- damage or irritation of nerves,
- abnormal responses to irritation or inflammation,
- allergic reactions,
- muscle spasms,
- a history of sexual abuse, or
- frequent use of antibiotics.
Familial or genetic factors also have been suggested to play a role in vulvodynia. Unfortunately, the exact cause has not been determined and most women have no known contributing factors.
What if you have vaginal pain during pregnancy?
Vaginal pain may occur during the third trimester of pregnancy due to an increase in pressure on the cervix. Women who experienced vulvodynia before becoming pregnant may continue to experience this symptom during pregnancy.
What are risk factors for vaginal pain?
Since the cause is poorly understood, it is difficult to predict who is at risk for vulvodynia.
- It can affect women of all ages and races.
- It can begin as early as adolescence and can occur both before and after menopause.
- It may occur during the menstrual period or independent of the menstrual period.
- One Death, 10 Hospitalizations in Listeria Outbreak Tied to Peaches, Plums
- Charity Scams Get Active Over the Holidays: Expert Tips to Avoid Them
- Too Few Seniors Get Follow-up Care After a Serious Fall
- AI Could Predict a Nonsmoker's Risk for Lung Cancer
- Breast Cancer Rates Higher in Urban vs. Rural Areas
- More Health News »
How is vaginal pain diagnosed?
No specific tests confirm vulvodynia. Usually, vaginal pain and vulvodynia are diagnosed based on the characteristic symptoms of the condition. However, since vulvar and vaginal infections, (for example, yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and vaginitis) are associated with vaginal burning and itching, cultures or other diagnostic tests may be ordered to rule out vaginal infections.
What is the treatment for vaginal pain and vulvodynia?
Vulvodynia is a chronic condition (it may last for months to years) in some women; in others, it may come and go. Vulvodynia and vaginal pain can be managed using medical treatments and self-care (home remedies). Not all treatments will be effective for every woman, and a woman may have to try different treatments to find the most effective option for her.
What medications and home therapies can relieve vaginal pain?
Some of the medications that have been useful include:
- Topical estrogen creams
- Topical or local anesthetics
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Anticonvulsants (anti-seizure medications are sometimes useful in managing chronic pain)
Other medical therapies for women with severe vulvodynia include:
- Injections of interferon or nerve blocks, in which medications are injected to reduce signals from nerves in the affected areas
- Biofeedback training and pelvic floor exercises have been helpful for some women.
- Surgical removal of affected tissue can be of benefit in women with vulvodynia due to vulvar vestibulitis syndrome, a particular type of vulvodynia that is located in the area of the hymenal ring.
What treatments and home remedies help relieve pain?
Home remedies and self-care measures for vulvodynia can bring relief to many women.
Some self-care measures to relieve the pain of vulvodynia include:
- Rinsing the area with cool water, particularly after urination and sexual activity
- Soaking in cool or warm sitz baths
- Using topical ice packs wrapped in a towel
- Heating pad use, in contrast, may help some women
- Using mild, unscented soaps and detergent
- Using white, unscented toilet tissue
- Wearing white cotton underwear
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing and avoiding stockings or pantyhose
- Avoiding pools or hot tubs with chlorinated water
- Using a water-soluble lubricant during sexual intercourse
- Avoiding activities such as bicycling, that put pressure on the vulvar area
- Keeping the vulvar area dry and clean
- Avoid food that can make the urine more irritating to the skin of the genital area, such as beans, berries, nuts, and chocolate
- Over-the-counter antihistamines can help reduce itching, particularly at night
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Vaginal Pain (Vulvodynia) Related Articles
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)Bacterial vaginosis is an abnormal vaginal condition with signs and symptoms of vaginal discharge, vaginal odor, and vaginal pain. It results from an overgrowth of normal bacteria in the vagina.
How Many Days Before a Period Do You Get Discharge?Vaginal discharge is a normal part of a woman's menstrual cycle. Learn about vaginal discharge before a period, how many days you get discharge before your period, signs and causes of vaginal discharge, and when to see a doctor if there's a problem. Vaginal discharge is the fluid secreted from the uterus, cervix (neck of the uterus) and vagina. A thick yellow vaginal discharge may point to vaginitis (infection of the vagina).
Is It Normal to Have Discharge After Sex?What is vaginal discharge? Learn the signs of vaginal discharge and what to do if you experience it.
Itching (Pruritus)Itching can be a common problem. Itches can be localized or generalized. There are many causes of itching including infection (jock itch, vaginal itch), disease (hyperthyroidism, liver or kidney), reactions to drugs, and skin infestations (pubic or body lice). Treatment for itching varies depending on the cause of the itch.
MenopauseMenopause is the time in a woman's life when menstrual periods permanently stop, also called the "change of life." Menopause symptoms and signs include hot flashes, night sweats, irregular vaginal bleeding, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, urinary incontinence, weight gain, and emotional symptoms such as mood swings. Treatment of menopausal symptoms varies and should be discussed with your physician.
Menopause QuizThe Menopause Quiz challenges your knowledge about the time in a woman’s life when menstruation ceases. Menopause can bring many physical, mental and sexual challenges to maturing women, but they don’t have to be limiting. Take the Menopause Quiz to learn the causes, symptoms and treatments of what’s known as "the change of life."
Menopause & Perimenopause: Symptoms, SignsWhat is menopause? What are the signs of menopause? What age does menopause start? Learn about menopause and perimenopause symptoms. Find the latest treatments for menopause.
Pain QuizIs pain all in the brain? Take the Pain Quiz to learn everything you've ever wanted to know about the unpleasant sensation we call pain.
PerimenopausePerimenopause is the time in a woman's life when she is approaching menopause. During this time a woman starts to develop symptoms of declining estrogen levels that may include mood swings, painful sex, night sweats, hot flashes, and weight gain. Every adult woman eventually will experience perimenopause.
Pelvic Pain SlideshowThere are many causes of pelvic pain and pain in the lower abdomen in women. Pelvic pain near the female lower abdomen has symptoms that can be uncomfortable, but luckily, there are treatments for pelvic pain if you can identify the cause.
Early Pregnancy Symptoms: Am I Pregnant?Pregnancy symptoms can vary from woman to woman, and not all women experience the same symptoms. When women do experience pregnancy symptoms they may include symptoms including missed menstrual period, mood changes, headaches, lower back pain, fatigue, nausea, breast tenderness, and heartburn. Signs and symptoms in late pregnancy include leg swelling and shortness of breath. Options for relief of pregnancy symptoms include exercise, diet, and other lifestyle changes.
15 Ways to Reduce PainChronic pain can be a symptom of many conditions, including arthritis, headaches, and others. Comprehensive chronic pain management therapy may include physical therapy, lifestyle strategies such as exercise, diet changes, meditation, journaling, medications, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco use. Make helpful changes to manage your chronic condition.
25 Ways to Relieve Menstrual CrampsMenstrual cramps happen when prostaglandins force the uterus to contract. Dysmenorrhea, or period pain, may be relieved by heating pads, ibuprofen, and other measures. Endometriosis may cause severe cramps during the menstrual cycle. Luckily, women have many options for period pain relief.
Spotting vs. PeriodMenstruation (a female's "period") occurs due to the shedding of the lining of the uterus. Menstrual bleeding lasts about three to five days, and the bleeding is heavy the first couple of days and then it lessens. Spotting is vaginal bleeding between periods.
Vagina PictureThe vagina is an elastic, muscular canal with a soft, flexible lining that provides lubrication and sensation. See a picture of the Vagina and learn more about the health topic.
Vaginal BleedingNormal vaginal bleeding (menorrhea) occurs through the process of menstruation. Abnormal vaginal bleeding in women who are ovulating regularly most commonly involves excessive, frequent, irregular, or decreased bleeding. Causes of abnormal may arise from a variety of conditions that may include, uterine fibroids, IUDs, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, lupus, STDs, pelvic inflammatory disease, emotional stress, anorexia nervosa, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), cancers, early pregnancy.
Vaginal Health Quiz: Test Your Medical IQTake this Vaginal Health Quiz to learn about about common problems that women experience, and when to see a doctor about problems down there.
Vaginitis (Inflammation of the Vagina)Vaginitis refers to inflammation of the vagina. Vaginitis can be caused by infections, menopause, or poor hygiene. Symptoms of vaginitis include vaginal itching, discharge, odor, pain, or discomfort. Treatment for vaginitis depends on the cause. Antibiotics may be necessary for some forms of vaginitis.