Women with chronic vulvar pain, or vulvodynia, are at a substantially increased risk for other chronic pain conditions, according to a University of Michigan Health System study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
The new research reveals that women suffering from this painful vaginal condition have between a two and three times more likelihood of having other chronic pain conditions, including fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and bladder pain.
Vulvodynia is chronic vulvar pain that consists of burning, stinging, soreness, or rawness in the area at the opening of the vagina. To date, it has no identified cause, although a genetic component or nerve injury may be the culprit. The pain can be so severe that it makes exercise, intercourse and even sitting unbearable. The condition may occur for months, but can last for years.
“Chronic pain conditions like these can seriously hamper quality of life and it’s imperative that we understand the commonality among them,” says lead author Barbara D. Reed, a professor of family medicine at the U-M Medical School. “”Chronic pain is starting to get a lot more attention, with more research being done on all of these disorders, as well as combinations of these disorders. I think the identification and treatment of these conditions will continue to improve.”
For the study, Reed and her colleagues used data from a follow up survey of nearly 2,000 southeastern Michigan women. The original study findings revealed that over 25 percent of women surveyed had been experiencing chronic vulvar pain, but only two percent of them ever sought treatment.
“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.
“Millions of people in theU.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.”
One in four women suffer from chronic vulvar pain at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Volvodynia Association.