One in five Australians experience chronic pain and it is estimated to cost the Australian economy billions every year. Yet, there has been a lack of research into chronic pain conditions, particularly those that affect women. I have recently been diagnosed with a chronic pain condition that is all too common but not talked about enough.
It all began one night when I woke up with a searing pain in my vulva. I went to the bathroom and tried to pee but all I experienced was pain. Thinking I had a yet another UTI I went to the sexual health clinic to get tested. But alas my results were negative and the pain was no longer there, so I forgot about it.
Then a number of weeks later I was walking to the grocery store and out of the blue came the searing pain only this time it was excruciating. I couldn’t even walk properly because each time my legs brushed together I experienced what felt like acid burning through my skin. I was in tears as I made a dash (or rather waddle) to the pharmacy begging for pain relief.
Over the next couple of months I ignored the pain when it was only a mild discomfort and when it was more severe I tried to manage it with Ibuprofen and harem pants. After many an evening spent Googling my symptoms I concluded that I was likely experiencing vulvodynia, which is a chronic pain condition that causes pain or ongoing discomfort in the vulva.
This can include the labia, clitoris, and vaginal opening. The pain is often described as a burning pain and can last for months or even years.
For me, the pain is akin to having a lit match permanently inside your vagina or having acid poured over your vulva. More Googling revealed that there are two different types of vulvodynia: provoked and unprovoked. The provoked kind occurs when pain is triggered due to something touching it like sitting in a tight skirt, using a tampon or sexual touch.
Unprovoked occurs seemingly without a trigger.
Chronic Pain explained. Post continues after video.
Now, say what you want about self-diagnosing, in this particular instance it helped me to argue my needs when I went to a doctor for a referral. He was skeptical when I asked to see a gynaecologist and challenged me on it. He thought that a woman with vulva pain, requesting a referral to a gynaecologist was simply not justified.
Unfortunately this response is all too common in the medical industry, particularly amongst GPs. Women with conditions like vulvodynia are often told to relax more and that what they are experiencing isn’t real.
Their very real and distressing pain is brushed off as nothing more than hysteria despite the fact that we are now in 2018. The absurd thing about the nonchalance amongst the medical world is that vulvodynia is estimated to affect up to 20 per cent of the female population. It is nothing short of a widespread health issue but you don’t see people growing their pubic hair out of solidarity.