By definition, the discomfort has no clear cause or connection to external factors like trauma or infection. Nonetheless, this rarely understood condition carries symptoms and treatments that are highly relative across patients.
Although the exact prevalence of the disorder is unknown, research in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates up to 28 percent of women will experience symptoms at some point in their lives. Because of its intimate and personal nature, vulvodynia is seldom discussed, but has a profound impact on those who struggle with it.
An important study
As part of Senior Scholarship Day at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Lydia Lo has chosen to study vulvodynia and its impact on women's lives. She and her team analyzed data provided from a national database of patients with vulvodynia created by OB/GYNs across the nation. This database is a collaborative effort of OB/GYNs who want to create a picture of the condition in order to more effectively treat it.
Lo chose to examine data that addressed the relationship between the woman and her partner. As expected, women with vulvodynia experienced a negative correlation between level of pain and perceived sexual satisfaction in their sex lives. Unexpectedly, however, this level of pain was not considered against the strength of the patient's relationship with her partner. It seems that although a sexual relationship was affected, personal support continued regardless of her condition.
Finding a solution
Because the database is a collaborative effort that began in 2009, there are individual differences across surveys that make for inconsistent reports. Part of the research effort is for researchers to interpret data while considering the factors that lead to those inconsistencies. Lo believes these efforts should further define the quality of the vulvar pain, whether it proves to be caused by touch, activation of the muscles in the pelvic floor or something else entirely. Determining these factors may help practitioners match effective treatment to patients with similar symptoms.
Ultimately, it's a complex issue that requires a multidisciplinary approach to help women manage their pain, as well as their emotional well-being and relationships.
Lo's research interests are not limited to gynecological issues; access to health services and how patients navigate their way through the healthcare system are also important to her. These interests led her to volunteer extensively at the Mobile Clinic Project at UCLAand perform research projects that focused on complex patients and how primary care clinics could more effectively manage them.
She plans on continuing her medical training by completing an OB/GYN residency.