Vulvodynia confers risk for other chronic pain syndromes

By Piriya Mahendra, MedWire Reporter

Women who experience vulvodynia are more likely than those without the pain syndrome to have fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis, and irritable bowel syndrome, research suggests.

These chronic pain conditions are known to be underdiagnosed, and the study in Obstetrics & Gynecology, by Barbara Reed (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA) and team, suggests they may also be related.

"Millions of people in the USA have chronic pain. This report stresses the need to further study relationships between these types of disorders to help understand common patterns and shared features," remarked Reed in a press statement.

Women were a significant 2.3- to 3.3-fold more likely to screen positive for vulvodynia if they reported having fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis, or irritable bowel syndrome. And women who had all three of these chronic pain conditions were five times more likely to have vulvodynia than those who had none.

Women with vulvodynia were significantly more likely to have interstitial cystitis or irritable bowel syndrome but not fibromyalgia as a sole other comorbidity.

Overall, 72.9% of the 1890 women with complete data on the four chronic pain conditions screened negative for all conditions and 19.1% reported having only one of the conditions. The prevalence of the four chronic comorbid pain conditions ranged from 7.5% for interstitial cystitis to 8.7% for vulvodynia, 9.4% for irritable bowel syndrome, and 11.8% for fibromyalgia.

"Women who have these disorders often see physicians but are not given a diagnosis or are given an erroneous diagnosis and continue to suffer without being treated properly," said Reed.

"Until their symptoms have a name, it can be really discouraging because patients begin thinking it's all in their head."

She added that there is increasing interest in understanding the patterns of co-occurrence of chronic pain conditions.

"Chronic pain conditions like these can seriously hamper quality of life and it's imperative that we understand the commonality among them," stressed Reed. "Results we see in any studies related to one of the conditions, such as regarding etiology, physiology, or treatment, may be relevant to any of others."

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