| Caroline Knight
Vulvodynia is the name for chronic vulvar pain with no identifiable cause. Since it is incredibly difficult to pinpoint the cause, a lot of tests may be necessary to diagnose vulvodynia in the first place and eliminate other possible causes of vulvar pain. Because of the lack of definitive causal factors, in the past there has been lots of speculation that it could be an autoimmune disease.
The straight answer is that no, vulvodynia is not an autoimmune disease. However, it has been linked to other autoimmune disorders, in that certain autoimmune diseases render you more likely to develop vulvodynia or vulvar vestibulitis syndrome. VVS is also called vestibulodynia or vulvar vestibulitis, and it is basically vulvodynia, just localized to the vulvar vestibule.
As you are no doubt well aware, vulvodynia is a pain condition, so if it has not yet been diagnosed, your Doctor will need to carefully assess you to eliminate any other possible causes of your vulvar pain.
If vulvodynia is not an autoimmune disease, what is it?
Many physicians have conceptualized that vulvodynia is a type of neuropathic pain, which means that nerve fibres in the vulva are behaving like pain fibres; thus they interpret even the lightest touch or pressure as pain. Since neuropathic pain often results in burning or stinging sensations, it is quite possible that vulvodynia is the result of neuropathic dysfunction.
Vulvodynia could be caused by one of three types of neuropathic pain:
- Allodynia: Painful responses to a stimulus should not normally be painful
- Hyperalgesiadescribes: Exaggerated pain reactions to a stimulus that normally would cause some degree of pain
- Dysesthesia: Perception of abnormally uncomfortable sensations despite stimulus not being noxious
Vulvodynia sufferers can experience all three of the above, but pain specialists generally consider it to be allodynia.
Autoimmune diseases are linked to vulvodynia
For instance, Sjögren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes excessive dryness in the body, and the vulvar area is also affected by it. It goes without saying that this could cause serious discomfort during intercourse, which could be mistaken for vulvodynia. However, as mentioned, if you have Sjögren’s Syndrome you may have developed vulvodynia too.
Sjögren’s Syndrome can also increase in the likelihood of developing bacterial or fungal infections in the vagina, which can also cause irritation, inflammation and pain. However, if you eliminate these infections you are likely to get rid of the pain. With vulvodynia, the pain would be more likely to persist.
Women with Sjögren’s are also more likely to develop urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can lead to pain when urinating. If you have this problem, you should have your Doctor check whether the cause is bacteria or Interstitial Cystitis (IC).
Other autoimmune diseases thought to make women more susceptible to vulvodynia or vulvar vestibulitis are another pain condition known as fibromyalgia, and systemic lupus erythematosus. If you have been diagnosed with any of these autoimmune diseases, you should disclose this to your healthcare specialist. You should also note that it is important to find a Doctor who is familiar with treating vulvodynia, since not all understand the condition well and treatment is likely to be unsuccessful.
So in a nutshell, no, vulvodynia is not an autoimmune disease… but whatever the cause of your vulvodynia, if you’re looking for treatment, you’ve come to the right place. VuvaTech has a wealth of information on treating vulvodynia, and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have about which products could help you.