All of us go through a tough period at some point in our life. Things aren’t going the way we planned or hoped, or perhaps there are unexpected losses that hit us hard and leave us feeling depressed and sad. It’s only natural, and in most cases, it will pass with time. But your mind isn’t the only part of you that can experience depression. New research indicates that your vagina (should you own one of those) can also experience negative mood swings. That’s right, your vagina can get depressed, and when it does, it tends to become sore, irritated and in many cases painful without any obvious pathology. The condition actually has a name – vulvodynia – and is said to afflict hundreds of thousands of women each year in North America alone.
How Do You Know if Your Vagina is Feeling Blue?
It wasn’t all that long ago that women suffering from what we now know to be vulvodynia were told that they were imagining things and sent to psychologists for treatment. As abhorrent as that seems, however, it was to a certain extent, understandable because vulvodynia is a syndrome without apparent cause and one which does not have any identifiable visual characteristics for a doctor to hang a diagnosis on (for instance there is no swelling or discharge). If that’s the case, what are the symptoms you should look out for?
What are the Symptoms?
While it’s true that there are no obvious characteristics a doctor can simply look at and say “Oh, that’s vulvodynia” there are a number of symptoms which, when taken as a whole, can lead to a proper diagnosis of this vexing condition. They are:
- Rawness, burning or a stinging sensation.
- A generalized aching sensation of the vulva.
- Soreness or a throbbing sensation.
Different women tend to experience these symptoms (either individually or collectively) at different times. For instance, some will experience symptoms while exercising, others while having sex, and others while resting. Some women have complained of the onset of symptoms while they rode their bicycle or inserted tampons. While still others say there is no telling when symptoms might pop up. The inconsistent and often unpredictable nature of symptoms is yet one more characteristic of vulvodynia that makes it such a difficult condition to diagnose accurately.
What Causes Depressed Vagina?
There is precious little known about the causes of vulvodynia, and although the syndrome is finally beginning to get the attention it deserves, it’s likely that it will be several more years at minimum before studies can produce the kind of actionable data health professionals need. For now, we need to content ourselves with the fact that we probably know as much about what doesn’t cause it as we do about what does cause it. We know for instance that it is not caused by infections. There is also no evidence to suggest it is caused by STDs or even excessive masturbation. (A possible cause that had gained some speculative traction in the past.) Possible causes currently under investigation include:
- Nerve damage of some sort.
- An exaggerated response to yeast infections.
- Allergies to either manmade or natural elements.
- Hormonal changes.
- Antibiotic abuse.
Is There More Than 1 Kind of Vulvodynia?
There are currently two generally accepted forms of depressed vagina syndrome or vulvodynia. They are:
- Generalized – This type of vulvodynia is typified by pain in different areas that may be constant or may come and go. The vulva may be sensitive to touch or pressure with this type of vulvodynia.
- Localized – This type of vulvodynia typically consists of pain in one specific area of the vulva. This type of vulvodynia is often typified by a burning sensation that may be prompted by sex or perhaps a long sitting session.
As stated above, it is not at all clear what caused depressed vagina syndrome, but if it is left undiagnosed or untreated, it can make your life very unpleasant. But what constitutes treatment for a syndrome whose origins are unknown?
What are the Treatments?
Although there are a number of treatments you can apply to obtain a measure of relief for your depressed vagina, you may have to try several before deciding which one works best for you.
Many women have discovered that it helps to avoid potentially irritating substances, foods or activities. And so they:
- Use baby soap or soap with a minimal number of additives.
- Avoid using fabric softener on their undergarments.
- Make sure those undergarments are 100% cotton (menstrual pads and tampons too).
- Avoid using spermicides.
- Avoid swimming in public pools where chlorine levels are often very high.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Avoid certain foods like berries, greens or nuts that may make urine more irritating.
- Remove wet swimsuits promptly and dry the vulva thoroughly.
Other women find it useful to avoid putting direct pressure on the vagina. As such they avoid activities such as bicycle riding, motorcycle riding, and horseback riding. Others go so far as to regularly sit on a foam rubber donut.
Home Care Pain Relief
There are some recommended things you can do to obtain pain relief from your depressed vagina. They include:
- Applying a cold gel pack wrapped in a towel to the vulva after sex.
- Soaking in a lukewarm bath.
- Some women find relief in the form of a heating pad rather than a cold pack. You may have to try both to determine which is best for you.
Medical Treatments for Vulvodynia
If you have an infection antibiotics are almost always prescribed. However, there is no such one size fits all treatment for your depressed vagina. You and your doctor may have to try a number of different medications to find one or more that works for you. Those may include:
- A topical estrogen cream.
- A local anesthetic.
- Nerve blockers.
- Opioids (never take without medical supervision).
The most important thing if you suffer from depressed vagina syndrome is to get a proper diagnosis. If you are experiencing unusual pain or discomfort in your vulva for no apparent reason, talk to your ob-gyn. Knowing you have vulvodynia is the first step to getting relief.