Vulvodynia is a medical term that means 'painful vulva'. The term can cover a wide variety of vulvar pain syndromes including various infections and skin disorders.
Some cases of vulvodynia may be due to compression or disease of the pudendal nerve, one of the main nerves that relays sensation to and from the genitals. The term is also used to refer to vestibulitis or Vulvar Vestibulitis Syndrome (VVS), which is an inflammation of the vestibule, or opening into the vagina and the tissues immediately around the vaginal opening. This condition is sometimes also called 'vestibular adenitis'. In a few people vulvodynia clears up on its own after 6-12 months.
In mild cases, a burning or stinging sensation is noted during intercourse or when tampons are inserted. Upon touching the area with a cotton swab, pain is felt when the hymen and inner vaginal lips are touched. There also may be redness and swelling. In severe cases, the pain can be agonizing and much of the vulvar can be reddened, swollen and very inflamed. Often the edges of the inner vaginal lips are very sensitive and the pain so severe that it makes walking difficult. There may be a constant itching or stinging sensation in the grooves between the large and small vaginal lips. Wearing underwear may be very uncomfortable as the slightest touch to the area may result in excruciating pain.
Other signs include pain or discomfort upon touching the pubic hair, over the vulvar skin or in certain spots. These sensations may extend to the rectal area or skin of the perineum. The clitoris can become involved, becoming painful or hypersensitive and there may be shooting pains from the clitoris up the abdomen. Sexual intercourse and urination may be very painful.
Some women need to avoid underwear that irritates the area or avoid using underwear altogether. If you must wear pantyhose or stockings for work, wear brands with a cotton crotch over the all-cotton underwear and slit the pantyhose crotch to relieve binding, or use old fashioned garter belts and stockings. Additionally, during your menstrual period, if you cannot tolerate a tampon string, you may cut off the string prior to insertion. If menstrual pads are too painful, you may use rolls of absorbent cotton.
Another condition, pudendal neuralgia, is a little known disease that affects one of the most sensitive areas of the body. Due to the location of the discomfort combined with inadequate knowledge, some physicians make reference to the pain as psychological. But nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, discussing the condition with gynecologists, urologists and neurologists often proves fruitless since most know nothing about the condition and therefore cannot diagnose it.
Pudendal neuralgia is a chronic and painful condition that occurs in both men and women, although studies reveal that about two-thirds of those with the disease are women. The primary symptom is pain in the genitals or the anal-rectal area and the immense discomfort is usually worse when sitting. The pain tends to move around in the pelvic area and can occur on one or both sides of the body. Sufferers describe the pain as burning, knife-like or aching, stabbing, pinching, twisting and even numbness.
These symptoms are usually accompanied by urinary problems, bowel problems and sexual dysfunction. Because the pudendal nerve is responsible for sexual pleasure and is one of the primary nerves related to orgasm, sexual activity is extremely painful, if not impossible for many pudendalites.