Vulvodynia is a painful condition in which the nerve endings in a woman’s vulva (the region that encompasses the labia and the clitoris) and urethra become so sensitive that they cause stinging and sharp pains that come in intervals, making sexual intercourse and even just sitting down very agonizing.

But vulvodynia is only the tip of the iceberg, reports A study led by Barbara D. Reed, M.D., M.S.P.H, of the University of Michigan School of Medicine reveals that women who suffer from this painful condition have a greater risk of getting chronic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (characterized by fluctuating bowel movements that cause abdominal cramps), fibromyalgia (incessant soreness of joints, muscles, and other soft tissues), and interstitial cystitis (chronic inflammation of bladder wall tissues). These findings are based on a six-month study of the experiences of 2,500 women in the Southeast Michigan area.

The problem, according to Reed, is that most of those who suffer from vulvodynia rarely even have themselves checked. Those who do are sometimes underdiagnosed, which may be due to the fact that the causes of this condition still remain unknown. She hopes that more research will be done on chronic pain in order to better identify and quickly treat symptoms before they get worse.

In the end, the best medicine is prevention. In order to avoid vulvodynia, always wear clean cotton underwear, and try not to wear tight jeans too often. It’s important that your vagina is able to breathe. If you habitually wear panty liners, always remember to regularly change them to avoid bacteria build-up. When cleaning yourself, gently dab the area with unscented toilet paper and steer clear of strongly scented soaps; you'll also want to minimize friction.

If you are already suffering from vaginal pain, remember that it’s a legitimate condition--it’s not just going on in your head. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about either, so head to your gynecologist for proper treatment.

(Photo by Alaina Abplanalp via Flickr Creative Commons; used for illustrative purposes only)

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