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Disorders of Vulva

Where is the vulva?
How can I check for vulva problems?
How is a vulvar self-exam done?
What should I look for during a vulvar self-exam?
What are symptoms of vulvar problems?
What are yeast infections?
What is contact dermatitis?
What are the most common sexually transmitted diseases…
What is vulvodynia?
What is vulvar dystrophy?
What types of cancer occur in the vulva?
How is vulvar cancer diagnosed and treated?
How can I prevent vulvar problems?

Where is the vulva?

  • The outside of the female genital area is called the vulva.
  • The vulva is made up of two sets of lips. The outer lips are called the labia majora. The inner lips are called the labia minora.
  • The clitoris is located at the top of the inner lips (labia minora) and is the center of sexual pleasure for most women. The clitoris is partly covered by a fold of tissue called the hood.
  • The area between the anus and the vagina is called the perineum.
  • The vestibule (vaginal opening) is found within the inner lips. Both the vagina and the urethra open into the vestibule.
  • Inside the vestibule are the openings to the glands that are responsible for lubrication.

How can I check for vulvar problems?

  • You should examine your vulva just as you would examine your breasts or skin for changes. A vulvar self-exam should be done monthly. Any changes can signal a problem, such as early signs of cancer.

How is a vulvar self-exam done?

  • Always wash your hands before you begin.
  • Sit or lie in a good, comfortable position near strong lighting with a hand mirror.
  • The goal is to find a position that allows you to clearly see the vulvar area, perineum, and anus.
  • Separate the outer lips of the vulva gently and look for any changes or signs of a problem.
  • Next, separate the inner lips and look for any changes in the area between them and at the entrance to the vagina.
  • Next, gently pull back the hood of the clitoris and examine the area underneath and the tip.
  • Make sure to also inspect the areas around the urethra, outside of the outer lips, and the anus.

What should I look for during a vulvar self-exam?

You should look for the following:

  • Redness
  • Bumps
  • Swelling
  • Dark or light spots
  • Blisters
  • Or any other changes.

What are symptoms of vulvar problems?

These symptoms may indicate vulvar problems:

  • Bleeding
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Discomfort.

If a problem does occur, you are more likely to find it at an early stage if you perform regular self-exams.

What are yeast infections?

A yeast infection is a fungal infection of the vagina and tissues of the vulva that causes redness, irritation, discharge (whitish and clumpy), and intense itchiness. It may also burn when you urinate.

The most common type of vulvar infection is a yeast infection. A yeast infection may be diagnosed by taking a sample of the discharge to be examined under a microscope. Treatment includes good hygiene and antifungal drugs.

What is contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy rash (in this case on the skin of the vulva) caused by direct contact with soaps, feminine hygiene products, etc.

To diagnose contact dermatitis, your health care provider will examine the vulvar area and ask what products came into contact with that area. Getting rid of the source of the irritation is the first step in the treatment of contact dermatitis.

What are the most common sexually transmitted diseases?

The most common sexually transmitted diseases are genital herpes and genital warts.

  • Genital warts are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Genital herpes is caused by a virus called herpes simplex virus (HSV).

If you are sexually active, you can reduce your chances of obtaining or spreading a sexually transmitted disease by using a latex condom. There is also a vaccine available that protects against the types of HPV that cause genital warts.

What is vulvodynia?

Vulvodynia refers to pain of the vulvar area that lasts for 3 months or longer that is not caused by an infection, skin disorder, or other medical condition.

Symptoms include:

  • Burning
  • Stinging
  • Irritation
  • Rawness
  • Aching
  • Soreness
  • Throbbing
  • Swelling.

There are multiple methods of treatment that can be done, and no one method works all the time for all women.

What is vulvar dystrophy?

Vulvar dystrophy is the growth of abnormal skin on the vulva, which can be too thin (lichen sclerosus), too thick (hyperplasia), or a mixture of both.

With lichen sclerosus, the skin may look like thin, wrinkled paper, and the vaginal opening may shrink. With hyperplasia, hardened patches may appear on the vulva.

Symptoms include:

  • Itchiness
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Whiteness.

Vulvar dystrophy can be diagnosed with a biopsy. Treatment for vulvar dystrophy requires long-term use of creams or ointments that are applied directly to the vulvar tissue.

What types of cancer occur in the vulva?

  • Cancer of the vulva usually begins as precancer, which means it may turn into cancer if not found or left untreated.
  • When changes of the skin cells of the vulva occur, it is a precancerous condition called VIN (vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia). It is not cancer, but if left untreated, it may become more severe and develop into cancer. Rarely do other forms of cancer occur in the vulva.
  • It is possible for melanoma (a form of skin cancer) to develop on the skin of the vulva.
  • Adenocarcinoma (a type of cancer that forms within mucus-secreting glands) can arise in the glands of the vulva. This cancer resembles eczema (patches of red, scaly, itchy skin) on the vulva.

How is vulvar cancer diagnosed and treated?

Cancer of the vulva is diagnosed with a biopsy. Treatment will depend on the stage of cancer. It may include surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, radiation, or chemotherapy.

How can I prevent vulvar problems?

To clear up or prevent vulvar problems from coming back these things may be done:

  • Avoid wearing tight pants or underwear
  • Wear only cotton underwear
  • Avoid wearing pantyhose unless they have a cotton crotch
  • Keep the vulva clean and dry
  • Avoid using pads or tampons that have deodorant or a plastic coating
  • Do not use perfumed soap or scented toilet paper
  • Do not douche or use feminine sprays or talcs
  • Avoid sleeping in tight-fitting garments.