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Smart, Olivia C; MacLean, Allan B

Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology: December 2003 - Volume 15 - Issue 6 - p 497-500
Womenapos;s health

Purpose of review An increasing number of patients present with symptoms of vulvar pain, soreness, burning or irritation, which become chronic. Clinicians are often uncertain of the diagnosis. Terminology and an understanding of aetiology and therapy are evolving.

Recent findings Previous descriptions of vulvodynia have grouped patients according to whether pain is provoked by coitus (vulvar vestibulitis syndrome) or generalized and neuropathic pain (dysesthetic vulvodynia). Recent terminology debates have questioned whether ‘vulvodynia’ should be replaced by ‘dysesthesia’ and the term ‘vestibulitis’ avoided. Definitions of pain provocation, quality, duration, and distribution vary. Prevalence studies suggest one in six women may experience vulvodynia, although such a figure reflects clinic, patient or author reporting bias. Symptoms are as likely to be found in non-white as in white women. Although infection is often blamed, evidence for its role or that of inflammation is minimal. Immunohistochemistry has shown altered density of nerve endings and oestrogen receptors. There may be overlap with other pain syndromes. Several reviews have examined the many therapies available. Pharmacological alteration of nerve conduction (tricyclic antidepressants, gabapentin, local anaesthetics), biofeedback and sometimes surgery are helpful, but not always. Counselling and an understanding between patient and clinician/therapist are important for long-term results.

Summary Gynaecologists should be aware that they will encounter patients with vulvodynia who will need assessment and management. There are increasing numbers of clinics or clinicians with expertise to whom these patients can be referred.

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Royal Free Hospital, Pond Street, London, UK

Correspondence to Olivia C. Smart, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Royal Free Hospital, Pond Street, London NW3 2QG, UK Tel/fax: 020 7 830 2435 e-mail:

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.