The vulva is the external part of a woman's genitals. Some problems you can have with the vulvar area include:
- Bacterial or fungal infections
- Skin problems due to allergy
- Vulvar cancer
- Vulvodynia, also referred to as "pain down there" or "feminine pain"
Symptoms may include redness, itching, pain, or cracks in the skin. Treatment depends on the cause.
The vulva is the external part of a woman’s genitals.
There are some common causes of problems you can have with the vulvar area. Treatment for vulvar disorders depends on the cause.
This program will help you understand vulvar disorders. It discusses common disorders of the vulva as well as diagnosis and treatment.
The vulva is the external female sex organs. It includes the vaginal lips, clitoris, and the openings to the vagina and urethra.
There are two sets of vaginal lips: the labia majora and the labia minora. The labia majora are the outer lips of the vulva. The labia minora are the inner lips of the vulva.
The clitoris is sensitive tissue found between the vaginal lips. It is located at the top of the inner lips. The hood is tissue that partly hides the clitoris.
The openings to the vagina and urethra are also a part of the vulva. They open into an area called the vestibule within the inner lips.
Inside the vestibule are glands. These glands release substances for lubrication.
Behind the vaginal opening is the anus. The anus is the opening of the rectum to the outside of the body.
The area that connects the openings of the vagina and anus is called the perineum.
Vulvar disorders are a group of problems that happen in the vulva. Vulvar problems may be found by your healthcare provider. They may also be found during a vulvar self-exam.
Some women do monthly vulvar self-exams to check for any changes. Regular vulvar self-exams can help you learn what is normal and what could be a sign of a problem.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any changes in the vulva. Minor and serious vulvar problems may have the same symptoms.
A woman may notice symptoms earlier if she does a regular vulvar self-exam. Finding a problem early makes treatment easier in most cases.
Many vulvar disorders have similar symptoms. Some common symptoms of vulvar disorders include:
- Pain or discomfort
You may also notice the following symptoms of vulvar disorders:
- Bumps or blisters
- Cracks in the skin
- Different colored spots
- Redness or swelling
If you notice any of these symptoms or other changes in the vulva, talk to your healthcare provider. Finding a problem early makes treatment easier in most cases.
There are some common causes of vulvar problems. This section examines the major causes.
Bacterial or fungal infections may cause problems in the vulvar area. The most common type of vulvar infections are yeast infections. In most cases, the vagina is also infected. This causes itchiness, pain and abnormal discharge.
Another common cause of vulvar problems is contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is inflammation of the skin. It can be caused by soaps or feminine hygiene products. Symptoms of contact dermatitis are redness and itching.
Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, can also cause vulvar problems. Genital warts and genital herpes are the most common STDs to affect the vulva. Genital warts are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV raises the risk for certain cancers, including vulvar cancer.
Genital herpes is caused by a herpes simplex virus, or HSV. Like HPV, the HSV virus stays in your body for life. It can cause sores on your genital or rectal area, buttocks, and thighs. Most people have outbreaks several times a year.
Cysts can also affect the vulva. Vulvar cysts happen if glands in the vulva become clogged. The glands make mucus. If the mucus cannot exit the gland, a cyst forms and causes pain, redness and swelling.
The Bartholin glands are located at the opening of the vagina; they also secrete mucus and help with vaginal lubrication. These glands can get plugged or infected, resulting in another type of cyst known as Bartholin’s cysts.
Vulvodynia is unexplained vulvar pain. Vulvodynia is also referred to as "pain down there" or "feminine pain." There is no known cause for the pain experienced from vulvodynia. However, there are treatments available to lessen the pain.
Another vulvar disorder is vulvar dystropy. Vulvar dystrophy is when abnormal skin grows on the vulva. This skin may be too thin or too thick. Often symptoms include itching or burning, as well as redness or whiteness in the affected area.
Vulvar cancer is also a possible cause of vulvar problems. Possible signs of vulvar cancer include bleeding or itching. There may also be a lump or tenderness in the vulva.
Tests & Diagnosis
To diagnose any vulvar disorders, your healthcare provider will first ask about your symptoms. They may also ask about your personal and family health history.
A physical will be done to check the body for general signs of health. This includes checking the vulva for any signs of disease.
If the skin of the vulva looks abnormal or a lump is found, a biopsy may be done. A biopsy is the removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope. This can help diagnose vulvar dystrophy and vulvar cancer.
A pelvic exam may also be done to check the internal female organs. This may be helpful if a yeast infection is suspected. It can also rule out other causes of your symptoms.
If you are experiencing pain, your healthcare provider may gently check for which areas are causing the pain. He or she may do this by gently pressing areas with a wet cotton swab.
To diagnose a yeast infection, a sample of discharge may be collected during a pelvic exam. This sample is examined under a microscope to look for signs of yeast.
If contact dermatitis is suspected, your healthcare provider may ask you about anything that has come into contact with your vulva. Sometimes perfumed or scented pads, toilet paper, or soaps may cause contact dermatitis.
Other tests may also be used to diagnose vulvar disorders, such as testing for STDs or other infections.
Treatment for vulvar disorders depends on the cause. Some vulvar disorders are easier to treat than others.
To treat a yeast infection, good hygiene is key. Also, anti-fungal medicines can eliminate yeast infections in most people. Medicines are available both over-the-counter and by prescription.
Vulvar cysts often may be treated at home by applying warm washcloths and wearing loose clothing. Sometimes, though, the cyst will have to be cut open and drained by a healthcare provider.
Vulvar dystrophy may be treated with creams or ointments. This disorder usually requires long-term treatment.
Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy may be used to treat vulvar cancer.
Medicines, surgery, and other treatments may be used to treat other types of vulvar disorders.
The vulva is the external part of a woman’s genitals. There are some common problems you can have with the vulvar area. These can include infections, skin problems, cancer, and others.
There are many tests that can be used to check vulvar health. These tests help determine the cause of a vulvar problem.
Treatment for vulvar disorders depends on the cause. Finding a problem early makes treatment easier in most cases. Regular self-exam of the vulva helps to find and treat problems early.
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Last modified: April 22, 2013