A subset of interstitial cystitis (IC) patients has vulvar pain known as vulvodynia. An alternative spelling is vulvadynia.

Vulvodynia is chronic vulvar pain without an identifiable cause. Vulvodynia affects women of all ages, beginning as early as adolescence. According to a Harvard study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), almost 16 percent of US women suffer from vulvodynia at some point during their lives, with most reporting ongoing pain for many years. According to the study, symptoms are likely to begin between the ages of 18 and 25. Although it once was believed to affect primarily Caucasian women, several recent studies have shown that African-American and Hispanic women are equally likely to develop vulvodynia.

Symptoms of IC and symptoms of vulvodynia can overlap. The most commonly reported symptom of vulvodynia is a burning sensation, but some women report stinging, stabbing, irritation and/or rawness. The severity of the condition ranges from mild discomfort to excruciating, disabling pain. Tell your IC healthcare providers about these symptoms as well as your bladder-related symptoms. This information helps with the IC and vulvodynia diagnosis process.

The two subtypes of vulvodynia (which sometimes co-exist) are:

  • Generalized vulvodynia—Women with generalized vulvodynia typically have pain in more than one vulvar area that sometimes radiates to the inner thighs and the buttocks. In generalized vulvodynia, the pain is spontaneous and relatively constant, although there may be occasional periods of relief. Vulvar pressure, as with sitting, exacerbates symptoms.
  • Vulvar vestibulitis syndrome—Women with vulvar vestibulitis syndrome experience pain primarily when pressure is applied to the vulvar vestibule (area surrounding the opening of the vagina) as during tampon insertion, sexual intercourse, or a gynecological exam.

For the latest information about vulvodynia, visit the National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) website.

Revised Wednesday, March 25th, 2015