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Painful Genital Condition More Common Than Thought

Millions of women are affected by discomfort in vulva region

TUESDAY, Jan. 27, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A condition that causes chronic and severe genital pain in women is more common than previously believed.

So says a University of Michigan (U-M) study in the January issue of the Journal of Lower Genital Tract Disease.

The condition, called vulvodynia, affects the outer genital region, or vulva. Pain is typically worse during intercourse.

"We used to think this was rare," study author Dr. Barbara Reed, a professor of family medicine at the U-M Medical School, says in a prepared statement.

"It turns out it's much more prevalent than we thought: 3 percent of women report chronic pain and 1.7 percent currently have pain. That's millions of women across the United States," Reed says.

It had been previously estimated that as few as 150,000 women in the United States were affected by vulvodynia.

Her Web-based survey of 994 women found that 27.9 percent of the respondents had experienced pain at the vulvar vestibule, the opening to the vulva, and 3 percent reported chronic pain. Half the women had at some point experienced pain during intercourse, either deep inside the vagina or at the opening.

"There's a spectrum of pain involved that's different in each woman. For some women, the pain is quite intense and debilitating -- they know something is wrong. For other women, it's mild and they think it's supposed to hurt. As more women hear about this condition, they'll be coming out of the woodwork," Reed says.

With vulvodynia, nerves in the area are hypersensitive. Treatment may involve drugs that control nerve sensitivity or physical therapy.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about vulvodynia.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, January 2004
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