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Provoked vestibulodynia: current perspectives

Authors Henzell H, Berzins K, Langford JP

Received 17 April 2017

Accepted for publication 21 July 2017

Published 11 September 2017 Volume 2017:9 Pages 631—642

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/IJWH.S113416

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Elie Al-Chaer


Helen Henzell,1,2 Karen Berzins,1,3 Jennifer P Langford4

1Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, Carlton, 2Action Centre, Family Planning Victoria, Melbourne, 3Dermatology/Vulval Conditions Clinic, Mercy Hospital for Women, Heidelberg, 4Clifton Hill Physiotherapy, Clifton Hill, VIC, Australia

Abstract: Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD) refers to vulvar pain of at least 3 months duration, localized to the vestibule, provoked by touch and sexual activity and occurring in the absence of a clear identifiable cause. The clinical spectrum ranges from mild with distressing discomfort through to severe and disabling pain. Current understanding is that PVD is one of many chronic pain conditions characterized by sensitization of peripheral and central nociceptive pathways, with pain arising due to dysfunctional neuronal activity in the absence of painful stimuli. Pathophysiology is not well understood but is likely a complex interplay of environmental, genetic, psychological and immune factors. Care is multidisciplinary and follows general principles of chronic pain management with the addition of specific therapy tailored to address pelvic floor overactivity, and sexual and relationship difficulties. More recently, the therapeutic use of placebo is gaining traction in chronic pain research and is a very promising adjunctive therapy. The majority of women with PVD are managed outside of tertiary clinic settings, and care depends on availability and affordability of specialized services; however, much can be done by the primary health provider. PVD is common, and highly treatable, especially with early intervention, but unfortunately, many clinicians are unaware of this condition, and the biggest hurdle for women accessing treatment is obtaining a diagnosis. With treatment, most women can expect significant improvement, often with fairly simple interventions, although some women will benefit from referral to specialized centers. The aims of this article are twofold: firstly, to summarize current literature concerning PVD pathophysiology and management; secondly, to provide a framework for clinicians unfamiliar with vulvar medicine to understand and manage PVD.

Keywords: vulvodynia, pathophysiology, comorbidities, clinical subtypes, placebo, physiotherapy

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