What is vulvodynia, the painful and misunderstood problem that only affects women

When she started to feel pain, Tara Langdale-Schmidt did not care much. It was a malaise that came and went after using the bathroom or having sex with her husband.

In recent years he had undergone a series of surgical treatments for endometriosis – a condition in which the tissue that normally covers the uterus grows out of it – so he assumed it would happen.

  • "Why do not I want to have sex with the man I love?"

But instead the pain became absolutely unbearable within a few weeks.

"After a while, I felt as if someone cut me in half and at the same time burn my vagina with a cigarette, "says Langdale-Schmidt.

"There were times when I tried to have sex with my husband and the only thing I could do was try not to cry, so that I did not ruin the moment, it was an excruciating pain," he recalls.

At that moment he decided to go to the doctor. He went to different and some were stunned. But the majority sent it as if it was not really a problem.

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Caption imageMany doctors are unable to diagnose vulvodynia.

"Literally, a doctor told me to take a little wine, an Advil (a painkiller) and just relax." Another told me, before I even researched the area, that I could cut off the part that hurt me or prescribed an antidepressant, "account.

"What would have happened if I had a sexually transmitted disease or cancer? I never went back to consulting one of them"he complains.

Furious, frustrated and painful, Langdale-Schmidt, then 28, decided to investigate on her own.

A chronic condition

After browsing various forums of medicines and women on the internet, she saw that some people were talking about it vulvodynia, a little known condition that leads to chronic pain or discomfort in a part of the vagina.

The condition should not be confused with vaginism, the fear of penetration that causes the contraction of the muscles of the vagina.

  • What vaginism is and how can it be overcome

Vulvodynia, on the other hand, is a pain that affects the vaginal opening and whose pain and burn can be felt as latent, although there is no activity in the genital (eg when a woman is seated).

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Caption imageVulvodynia can be an "incredibly debilitating" condition.

The Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology of the United States defines vulvodynia as a pain in the vagina lasting three months or more and it is not the result of an infection, a skin condition or other medical problem.

The condition may appear suddenly or slowly increase over time and two types have been identified.

The first is generalized vulvodynia, which is located in different parts of the vulva and can hurt at different times. The pain may be constant or may occasionally be.

While it localized vulvodynia It is pain that is felt in a specific area of ​​the vulva. It is often associated with a burning sensation and usually appears after pressure or touch, such as in sexual intercourse or when inserting a tampon.

The pain, burning and irritation can be so intense that a woman will find it unbearable to have sex and to remain seated for a long time.

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Caption imageFor some women, the pain becomes so unbearable that they can not tolerate the rubbing of the underwear.

"It is a condition that can be incredibly debilitating," says Angie Stoehr, director of the Stoehr Center for Pelvic and Intimate Pain.

"Some women who suffer from it can not even wear underwear [pantalones] because the pain is very intense. It is a big problem has serious consequences for the quality of live off a woman and it can be very difficult to deal with, "he says.

Lack of research

Vulvodynia appeared for the first time in medical texts from 1880. Then there was talk of "vulvar sensitization" and "a fertile source of dyspareunia" (painful sexual intercourse), explains Lisa Goldstein, executive director of the national association, Vulvodynia.

And to this day, studies show that it is 16% of women in the United States they suffer from this condition at some point in their lives.

Due to a number of factors, including the difficulty of studying such a sensitive topic, differences in definitions and diagnostic criteria and a lack of research into health conditions affecting mainly women, research has been conducted. bit.

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Caption imageMore than one in seven women suffer from vulvodynia at some point in their lives.

In 2011, more than 80 researchers met at a conference of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in the United States to determine the next steps in research on vulvodynia.

"Participants at the conference agreed that the evidence base for vulvodynia research is scarce and that there is insufficient scientific evidence to reach a consensus on the most appropriate diagnostic and treatment methods," they concluded in their final statement.

The result is that the condition remains largely intact a mystery. There is no recognizable cause and there is no cure that works for all patients.

  • Why the mysterious pelvic floor one of the & # 39; last limits of the anatomy & # 39; became

Often "a team of specialists is needed to diagnose vaginism and other pelvic pain disorders," says Rachel Gelman, a pelvic floor physiotherapist at the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco.

"There is so many systems that meet and connect in the pelvis that everyone can be the one who causes the pain, "he explains.

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Caption imageVulvodynia remains a mystery for various reasons.

Some studies have linked vulvodynia to autoimmune diseases, nerve damage, allergic reactions and chronic fungal infections, Stoehr says.

The risks of contracting vulvodynia have increased in some cases psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and sometimes experiences during childhood, such as chronic stress or sexual abuse.

A recent theory is that the symptoms of vulvodynia can not come from the affected part of the body, but from the brain, as in other chronic pain conditions.

It has been found that patients with this disorder have more gray matter in the areas of their brains that process pain and stress. In other words, the problem may not be in the pelvic area, but in how the brain is processing the signals that comes from there.

"Custom" solutions

Meanwhile, some women try to find their own solutions.

And knowing that vaginal dilators are used to restore vaginal capacity, to increase and restore the elasticity of the tissue, Langdale-Schmidt decided to let go of creativity.

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Caption imagePerforming daily tasks such as going to work can be very uncomfortable for some women with vaginism.

From his previous experience with the use of ineodymium mane To reduce back and neck pain after a car accident, Langdale-Schmidt tried to bring them together and place them in a vaginal dilator where he made a hole.

He started using it twice a day for 20 to 30 minutes. This caused the pain during sexual intercourse to be immediately reduced by about 60%, she says.

And when he used it just before sexual intercourse, he says that the pain has decreased by 90%. She has baptized him as the Vaginal magnetic dilator.

"When I distributed prototypes among women with the same type of pelvic pain, I received satisfactory messages saying things like & # 39; I never thought I would have sex again & # 39; and & # 39; you saved my marriage & # 39; 39; & # 39 ;, says Langdale-Schmidt.

But there is real very few studies in Western medicine explaining the effectiveness of magnetic therapy, based on the idea that all living organisms exist in a magnetic field and that healing occurs when electromagnetic energy is recovered.

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Caption imageDoctors recommend different vaginal devices for women to use during treatments for vulvodynia.

Magnets, which aim to increase blood flow and relax overactive nerves, have played a central role in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years. But several studies have found that there is no evidence that magnets relieve pain or can treat medical conditions.

Although some people seem to benefit from magnetic therapy, the same results are obtained when administering a placebo, meaning that the relief can have psychological and non-physiological origin.

"There is not much consistent evidence in the scientific literature about magnets and pain," says Stoehr.

Yet it sometimes recommends the Langdale-Schmidt dilator in patients with vaginism, a similar condition that affects a woman's ability to engage in vaginal penetration.

"It is also something that actually it does not have to harm the patient"And because pain in the pelvic pain is so difficult to treat, I encourage my patients to try different types of treatments until we find something that works for them," he explains.

The recurring options are usually therapies where the tissue that connects various organs in the pelvis is massaged, the point at which the pain is felt and myofascial decompression sessions or cupping.

Emotional problem

Vulvodynia is not only physically painful, but also it can have an emotional and mental cost for women and their most intimate relationships.

Many of those who suffer from this condition do not count it out of shame and because of the stigma with which they can associate with conversations about sexual health.

A couple is formed by a man and a woman in bed, to each other.Copyright of the imageGETTY IMAGES
Caption imageThe vulvodynia has caused problems in the couple relationships of women who suffer from the disorder.

Langdale-Schmidt says she was lucky that her husband supported her at the time: "He was very understanding and never forced me to do anything that would hurt me," he says.

But she has met many other women who have not had the same experience.

"I have met many women whose situation is yous has much more influenced on a sentimental level, women who said things like & # 39; my husband separated me because of this & # 39; and & # 39; I do not want to live anymore & # 39; ", he says.

Vuldovinia is a condition for the intimate life of a person and can be very isolating socially, says Stoehr, who says that many of his patients have been separated by this problem.

Others have missed the work several times or have lost it because of it intense pain it prevents them from performing their tasks normally.

"Many women have asked me:" Is something very bad happening to me or am I simply mad? " The gynecologist remembers.

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Caption imageVulvodynia can be a cause of divorce.

There are ways to deal with pain and to treat the symptoms of the condition, says Stoehr, but It may take some time to find the right therapy for each individual.

"This is not a simple cold," he says. And often the patient must be treated for the rest of his life.

"It is very important for women to investigate the propellants of these kinds of chronic diseases," says Stoehr. "And sometimes you get so frustrated that you start thinking about a cure that works for you, just like Langdale-Schmidt did."

This post was originally published in English for BBC Future and you can read it here.

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