What is vulvodynia?

Andrea J. Rapkin, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Vulvodynia is a chronic pain condition that affects the vulva and the opening of the vagina. Approximately 7% to 14% of women in the United States suffer from vulvar and vaginal pain. Vulvodynia can affect women of all ages. There are two general types of vulvodynia, but as with any categorizing system there is often some flow between the two disorders. Very often we see women who have both generalized vulvodynia as well as vestibulodynia, where the pain is located in the vestibule. Or women may have the generalized condition at one time, which may later develop into a vestibulodynia condition. Generalized means that the pain is located in different areas of the vulva. It may be the whole vulvar area or it may be on the larger lips of the vulva.
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Vulvodynia describes pain or other uncomfortable symptoms such as burning, stinging or irritation, located in the skin of the female genitals, also called the vulva.

Treatment depends on its cause. Two categories are used to classify the causes of vulvodynia:
  • Pain caused by a specific disorder
  • Pain without a specific recognizable cause
Specific conditions that cause vulvar pain include:
  • Infection (for example, herpes simplex virus)
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Menopause
  • Cancer (though this is rare)
Your doctor will ask about your health history and examine the vulvar skin to try to identify a specific cause. Treatment to eliminate the cause of the pain will be prescribed.

Many women with vulvar pain do not have an obvious condition to explain their pain. In some cases, the pain is over the entire vulva. In other cases, the pain is limited to one spot. Some women with vulvodynia have pain nearly all the time. In others, the pain may only occur with physical contact.

Vulvodynia not associated with a specific disorder affects about 5% of women. While the cause of pain is not known, doctors suspect that in many cases it is a form of "neuropathic" pain. This means the nerves in the vulvar skin send inappropriate signals of pain.

There is no single best treatment for vulvodynia if no specific underlying disorder is identified. Good vulvar care is always essential. Avoid irritants such as scented pads and tight fitting clothes. Cool packs applied to the skin may be helpful. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to relax muscle spasms in the pelvis.

To help quiet overactive pain nerves, your doctor may prescribe a medication that treats "neuropathic pain," such as gabapentin.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

For some women, the slightest pressure to the most intimate part of her body can be unbearable. The brush of her clothes, the insertion of a tampon, or a partner's gentle touch is instantly transformed into an instrument of pain. The mere act of sitting can be problematic, and performing exercise or having sexual intercourse is all but out of the question. The stabbing knife-like pain, burning, irritation, and rawness can permeate throughout the pelvic area.

While there is no doubt that pain can have psychological ramifications, contrary to what some people believe, this pain is not in a woman's head. Doctors naive to this condition infer the cause to be solely psychological because they can't zero in on a certain source of the pain. But nothing can be further from the truth.

The pain is a real gynecological condition called vulvodynia (aka vulvar vestibulitis) and the medical community is just waking up to high prevalence of this condition and finally starting to do something about it.

Watch the video to learn more from Dr. Jennifer Ashton and Dr. Oz about vulvodynia.


This content originally appeared on

Itching, burning, stinging, rawness, or pain in the vulva in the absence of any known cause is called vulvodynia. Symptoms may occur in one site on the vulva or may be experienced all over the vulva; they may last for days, weeks, or even years, then disappear for a time. Tight clothes and sitting often increase the discomfort; sexual intercourse may or may not be painful. The cause of vulvodynia is unknown, but it affects about eight percent of women. It can be hard to get a proper diagnosis; if your vulva hurts, it is important to find a health care provider who is familiar with vulvodynia.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.