The mystery of vulvodynia

Although vulvodynia is a condition that affects many women – studies estimate between 6-20% of women – it is still frequently missed or misdiagnosed, even among clinicians specializing in womens’ gynecologic health.

Many women suffer from vulvodynia for years, often seeing multiple providers and being subjected to many unnecessary tests and ineffective treatments, prior to receiving a diagnosis. The symptoms associated with vulvodynia – burning, irritation, pain with intercourse – are often incorrectly attributed to more common conditions, like yeast infection or BV, and many women take unnecessary medications multiple times with no abatement of symptoms.

Additionally, women with vulvodynia are often incorrectly told that they have vaginismus. While the two conditions frequently present together and impact each other, they are distinct diagnoses.

It’s important to note that the incidence of vulvodynia in adolescents is comparable to that of adult women, however, it is not frequently screened for at annual gynecologic visits.  Also, to further complicate receiving a correct diagnosis, many girls and adolescents were never taught the proper terminology for their genitals, and frequently refer to their vulva as their vagina. Incorrect identification of basic female anatomy may further delay diagnosis, as vaginal pain/burning/irritation frequently may have a different etiology, or origin, than vulvar pain.

The International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD) defines vulvodynia as vulvar pain of at least 3 months’ duration, without clear identifiable cause, which may have potential associated factors– or, more simply, idiopathic vulvar pain.

For many women, the fact that they finally have a diagnosis for their chronic pain allows them to place a name on their condition and validates their experience. At Maze, we frequently see women who state that they felt dismissed by health care providers who suggested that their symptoms were ‘all in their head.’ Unfortunately, this is not just seen in our practice – studies show that women’s sexual pain is often minimized. Far too many women consider it normal to have pain during intercourse and persist with painful intercourse for years before seeking medical treatment.

While there is no ‘quick fix’ in the treatment of vulvodynia, correct diagnosis is essential for women to start their journey towards healing their chronic vulvar pain. If you are experiencing pain and would like to learn more, contact us for a free phone consultation and see how we can help. 



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