Vulvodynia has Minimal Effect on Decision to Conceive

Charlie Plain | June 18, 2015

In a recent study at the University of Minnesota, researchers found that despite painful symptoms associated with vulvodynia, the disorder ultimately had little effect on a woman’s decision to conceive.

A pregnant woman holds her belly.
Photo Credit: Tatiana Vdb, CC,

Vulvodynia is a chronic disorder that causes pain to the vulvar area and is often difficult to diagnose. Considering the methods of treatment and effectiveness vary from woman to woman, researchers expected this arduous treatment process would significantly alter childbearing decisions.

“In many cases, women did not see their pain as ‘bad enough’ to merit delaying conception,” said Nora Johnson, M.P.H., from the School of Public Health and lead author of the study. “The women seemed to have reached a personally acceptable level of pain before planning and achieving their pregnancies. However, very few women in the study reported to be completely pain-free at the time of conception.”

Very little research is available on the effect of vulvodynia on pregnancy, however, vulvodynia has not been shown to have a biological effect. Research suggests there is no significant difference between women with and without vulvodynia in the context of achieving pregnancy or the pregnancy outcomes. Still, it can affect a pregnancy behaviorally as vulvodynia increases the likelihood of receiving a c-section and can reduce sexual intercourse due to the associated pain.

“Our study points to vulvodynia affecting the pregnancy experience by increasing women’s anxiety levels,” said Johnson. “The women in our study were consistently in fear of their vulvar pain coming back or getting worse.”

Over the course of the study, the pregnant women coped with vulvodynia in diverse approaches. Some women actively adjusted their birth plan to minimize or avoid pain. Others were comforted by the normalization of delivery pain, regardless of whether or not a woman has vulvodynia. A few women also hoped for an improvement in their symptoms as a result of the delivery.

“The research found that most of the women were not taking any contraindicated medications and those that did have to go off medication in anticipation of pregnancy had few problems with doing so,” said Johnson.

By gaining a better understanding of the relationship between vulvodynia and the experiences of reproductive planning, pregnancy and delivery, Johnson and her colleagues hoped to identify some ways to better support women and couples affected by vulvodynia.

“The women expressed many normative feelings of anxiety and hopefulness regarding pregnancy, which often times were representative of their resilience,” said Johnson. “Therefore, building this resilience with the assistance of therapists, partners and other individuals who provide social support to the women should be a primary focus of future research.”

~ Post written by Katie Huggins and originally published on Health Talk 

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