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DermNet NZ


Facts about the skin from DermNet New Zealand Trust. Topic index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Vestibulodynia

Vestibulodynia, previously known as vulvar vestibulitis, is a descriptive term used for pain arising at the entrance to the vagina, the vestibule. By definition, there is no known cause for the pain and the affected tissue appears normal. Vestibulodynia, like 'itch' or 'headache', is not a disease.

Vestibulodynia is a common reason for entry dyspareunia (pain on attempting penetration during sexual intercourse). Vestibulodynia may be accompanied by vaginismus, an involuntary pelvic muscle contraction that prevents sexual intercourse. Vaginismus may also cause pain.

Vestibulodynia is also sometimes described as localised provoked vulvodynia following the classification of The International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Diseases (ISSVD) in 2001.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of vestibulodynia include:

The pain may persist for several hours and can prevent penetrative intercourse altogether.

What causes it?

Vestibulodynia reflects hypersensitive nerve endings in the affected mucosa. Vestibulodynia may be triggered or exacerbated by previous:

The tender spots in the vestibular mucosa are trigger points linked to hypersensitive muscle spindles within the pubococcygeus or pelvic floor muscles. These muscles have high resting tone, i.e. they are contracting even at apparent times of rest and may completely close the vagina.

Small red spots may be noted within the vestibule due to inflammation of minor lubricating glands. These are no longer considered related to vulvodynia and are are often present in women with no symptoms.

Who gets vestibulodynia?

Vestibulodynia usually affects sexually active women aged 20 to 40, but younger and older women may also be affected. It affects pale skinned races and Asians, but is reported to be rare in women of African descent.

How is it diagnosed?

Vestibulodynia is diagnosed when a woman describes pain in the entrance to the vagina when the affected area appears normal and treatment of infection has failed. Vaginismus is diagnosed when tight pelvic muscles are found on internal examination.

Thorough skin and gynaecological examination, lower vaginal swabs for bacteria and yeasts, and skin biopsy may be performed but are unhelpful.

It may be important that examination is carried out when symptoms are present, as signs of an active skin disorder may be subtle, especially recurrent fissuring of the posterior fourchette.

Management

Women who suffer from vestibulodynia may have done so for months or years. Treatment can be difficult and dedication by the patient and therapist is required in order to overcome the physical and psychological impact the disorder can have on daily life.

In some patients symptoms settle by themselves, although it may take months or sometimes years to do so. The most successful measures appear to be:

Experimentally, botulinum toxin injections into the affected areas have been reported to be effective. In severe cases, the affected area may be excised (cut out).

Surgery may be very successful, but it sometimes makes symptoms worse so is rarely performed.

Local anaesthetic creams may provide temporary relief e.g. to allow intercourse.

Support for and education of the condition are essential components of treatment. Both the patient and their partner need to understand and learn how to cope with the stresses that the condition can place on relationships.

Related information

On DermNet NZ:

Other websites:

Authors: Amanda Oakley (1999, 2004, 2010) & Vanessa Ngan (2002)

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If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.