Vulvovaginal Pain Disorders

This post is part one in my series about the Patty Brisben Foundation for Women’s Sexual Health.

The first focus of the Patty Brisben Foundation for Women’s Sexual Health in which we’ve played a large role is in the exploration of the first of our focuses, Vulvovaginal Pain Disorders. We’ve partnered with the National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) to create an online tutorial for women and healthcare providers alike. Everything You Need to Know about Vulvodynia is viewed by more than 200 women every single day.

Additionally, in 2010 we began funding a National Vulvodynia Treatment Outcomes Registry in conjunction with NVA to discover what treatments suit what subtypes of vulvodynia. This will help eliminate the numerous treatments women often try before finding what’s right for their specific subtype. Only two of the 25 therapies used to manage the painful symptoms of vulvodynia have undergone rigorous scientific evaluation, leaving medical professionals with little scientific data on which to base their treatment recommendations. As the NVA’s objectives state, goals are to:

  1. Collect preliminary data on the long-term efficacy of the most commonly utilized treatments, including, but not limited to: topical medications (e.g., anesthetics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants and/or hormones); oral “pain-blocking” medications (e.g., anticonvulsants, tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin-norephinephrine reuptake inhibitors and/or muscle relaxants); physical therapy; and surgery for Provoked Vestibulodynia, a major vulvodynia subtype;
  2. Differentiate vulvodynia subtypes based on physical findings and treatment response;
  3. Formulate multidisciplinary treatment plans for different vulvodynia subtypes;
  4. Determine which factors can predict treatment success.

Though more funding and research needs to be put into vulvovaginal pain disorders, the issue is gaining more coverage. Dr. Mehmet Oz (yes, the famous Dr. Oz) recently discussed the causes and symptoms of vulvodynia on his show. Dr. Oz says:

“The pain of vulvodynia can occur unprovoked or it can be triggered by direct contact. It can be constant or intermittent, mild or excruciating, and it can last for 6 months or longer. Childbirth, physical trauma, past surgery, scarring, and certain neurological conditions are known to activate vulvodynia.

The actual cause has eluded researchers but a genetic, hormonal, muscular, or neurological component that causes nerves to become overstimulated, overabundant, or entangled has been proposed. Some researchers have suggested that whatever is at work with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome is at work here, causing intense and frequent firing of nerve signals.”

As you can see, researchers are still unaware of the exact cause of vulvodynia. The Patty Brisben Foundation seeks to resolve the cause and symptoms so women can lead happy, healthy sexual lives. What we can do now is share as much information as possible. We can aspire to give women hope that someday they not only can, but will, feel like themselves again. One of the most powerful tools every human has is their mind; if we seek the positive, we will find the positive. Believing in yourself and your health is almost as important as the research itself.

With the help of our sponsorship of the National Vulvodynia Treatment Outcomes Registry, there will be multiple treatment plans in the future. Making women aware of what resources there are to assist them during this time is the Foundation’s duty, and I believe the results of this registry will benefit every woman suffering a vulvovaginal pain disorder.

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. With the assistance from doctors on our Board combined with research, the blog posts this month have been created.

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