Diagnosing Vulvodynia


What is vulvodynia?

Vulvodynia is a chronic pain condition affecting the vulva (vaginal opening); it presents as pain in the labia, clitoris and/or vaginal opening. A diagnosis of vulvodynia requires that the pain is present for at least three months. Vulvodynia has no identifiable cause and is a diagnosis of exclusion. Although the cause is still unknown, research is ongoing.

How is vulvodynia diagnosed?

Other medical conditions that cause vulva pain are ruled out first. The diagnostic process involves sharing medical, surgical and sexual history with a health care provider. A discussion about the location of the pain, when the pain occurs and the level of pain usually follows. Diagnostic tests include the following:

  • A pelvic exam to assess pelvic floor muscles and identify areas of pain is usually done. A health care professional typically performs a visual examination of the external genitals and vaginal area for signs of infection. A sample of the cells from the vaginal region may be taken to test for a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.
  • A cotton swab test may be used to test for infection. During this test, a health care professional uses a moistened cotton swab to collect tissue from specific and localized areas of pain in the vulvar region for further testing.
  • A biopsy may be completed if a lesion is present or abnormal results are found. During a biopsy, tissue is removed from the area and sent for a detailed examination.

Important questions to ask a health care professional

A physician appointment concerning vulvodynia can be intimidating. Writing down questions to ask a health care provider can help:

  1. How certain is the diagnosis?
  2. What treatments are recommended?
  3. Should any activities be avoided?
  4. Does vulvodynia affect sexual intercourse?
  5. Does vulvodynia affect the ability to have children?
  6. Does vulvodynia go away without treatment?
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