Written by: Nicole Snowball
Many women with vulvo-vaginal pain have seen numerous medical professionals, yet still do not feel as though they really know what their pain is, or what causes it. Below you can find answers to some frequently asked questions about vulvo-vaginal pain.
What is vulvodynia? (vuhl-voe-DIN-ee-ah)
Vulvodynia is chronic pain of the vulva (see a diagram of the vulva here) that has no identifiable cause (e.g., infection or other diseases). Women with vulvodynia describe and experience their pain in different ways. Variations in women’s pain experiences include differences in how long the pain persists, the specific location(s) and severity of the pain, and the sensations the pain involves. For example, the pain may feel cutting and sharp, burning, or anything in between. <!–more–keep reading>
What is PVD?
Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD; pronounced ves-tib-u-low-DIN-ee-ah) is one of two subtypes of vulvodynia. Women with PVD experience pain at the entrance of the vagina (also known as the vulvar vestibule) during or after having pressure applied to that area. Typically this means during or after sexual intercourse, but it can also be during activities such as a gynaecological exam, inserting a tampon, sitting for a prolonged period, or wearing tightly fitted pants. The other subtype of vulvodynia is generalized vulvodynia, and this condition involves constant pain that is not limited to when pressure is applied to the vestibule.
What causes PVD?
To date, there is no known single cause for PVD. In fact, research suggests that there are likely multiple causes or potential risk factors for PVD. Studies have shown that women with PVD are more likely than women without PVD to have:
- A higher number of pain nerve endings in the vulvar vestibule
- Increased sensitivity to pain in the vulvar area
- Changes to the nerve pathways that transmit sensations between the vulva and the rest of the nervous system
- A history of potential injury or irritation to the vulvar area
- Muscular tension in the vestibule, or pelvic floor weakness or spasms
- A history of chronic yeast or urinary tract infections
- A genetic predisposition to inflammation of the vulvar vestibule and chronic widespread pain
Is PVD very common?
If you experience PVD, you should know that you are not alone. Within the general population, PVD typically affects 7-15% of pre-menopausal women. However among women under 30, approximately 1 in 5 women (21%) experience recurrent, chronic pain during sexual intercourse.
Where can I find more information on PVD?
Read Part 2 of this FAQ.
Bergeron, S., Binik, Y. M., Khalifé, S., Pagidas, K., & Glazer, H. I. (2001). Vulvar vestibulitis syndrome: Reliability of diagnosis and evaluation of current diagnostic criteria. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 98, 45-51.
Bergeron, S., Corsini-Munt, S., Aerts, L., Rancourt, K., & Rosen, N. O. (2015). Female sexual pain disorders: A review of the literature on etiology and treatment. Current Sexual Health Reports, 1-11.
Harlow, B. L., Kunitz, C. G., Nguyen, R. H., Rydell, S. A., Turner, R. M., & MacLehose, R. F. (2014). Prevalence of symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of vulvodynia: Population-based estimates from 2 geographic regions. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 210, 40.e1-40.e8.
Harlow, B. L., & Stewart, E. G. (2002). A population-based assessment of chronic unexplained vulvar pain: Have we underestimated the prevalence of vulvodynia?. Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association (1972), 58(2), 82-88.
National Vulvodynia Assocation (n.d.). Retrieved November 27, 2015 from: www.nva.org