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UCLA researchers seeking women for a study on vulvodynia

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Vulvodynia is a chronic pain syndrome that affects the vulvar area (outer vaginal lips) and often occurs without an identifiable cause or visible pathology. In an attempt to determine the cause of this disorder, UCLA researchers announced on February 25 that they were seeking women aged 18 to 55 who have been diagnosed with vulvodynia or vestibulodynia, The objective of the study is to help physicians understand the physiology and genetic composition of this condition. They investigators are hopeful that this information will promote the development of more effective treatments. The investigators will enroll women who have been diagnosed with the condition, or who are experiencing chronic pain (with or without sexual activity) at the vaginal entrance or the surrounding area.

Volunteers in the study will be required to visit UCLA twice over one to three weeks, once for a pelvic and neurosensory pain screening and once to undergo an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. The women must be right-handed and not pregnant. Volunteers can earn up to $130 for participation in the study.

If the investigators are successful in characterizing the clinical, physiological, genetic, and brain activity changes associated vulvodynia, they will attempt to identify the communication between brain networks while a woman is at rest and compare the communications patterns with healthy controls as well as individuals who suffer from other chronic pain conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

The research is being conducted by Dr. Andrea Rapkin at the UCLA Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Dr. Jennifer Labus at the UCLA Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress. For more information, call (310) 825-5255.

There are two types of vulvodynia:

  • Generalized: The pain or discomfort can be felt in the entire vulvar area.
  • Localized: The pain is felt only in one place on the vulva (such as the vestibule, the area around the vaginal opening.

Because chronic pain can make it difficult to work or be active, the condition can impact a woman’s daily life. Dealing with pain on a long-term basis can cause mental problems, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression. Emotions and stress also can pay a role in how pain is felt and dealt with.

Vulvar pain can be a symptom of many conditions that, once diagnosed, can be treated. For example, herpes or certain skin diseases can cause vulvar pain, burning, or swelling. However, frequently an exact cause for vulvar pain cannot be found. Some of the factors that are thought to contribute to vulvodynia include:

  • Infections
  • Genetic factors
  • Spasm of the muscles that support the pelvic organs
  • Allergies to certain chemicals or substances
  • Hormonal changes, including those that occur with the menstrual cycle or birth control use.
  • Damage or irritation of the nerves of the vulva
  • History of sexual abuse
  • Overuse of topical medications
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