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Vulvodynia: Diagnosis and Management - Article
ABSTRACT: The diagnosis of vulvodynia is made after taking a careful history, ruling out infectious or dermatologic abnormalities, and eliciting pain in response to light pressure on the labia, introitus, or hymenal remnants. Several treatment options have been used, although the evidence for many of these treatments is incomplete. Treatments include oral medications that decrease nerve hypersensitivity (e.g., tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, anticonvulsants), pelvic floor biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, local treatments, and (rarely) surgery. Most women experience substantial improvement when one or more treatments are used.
ABSTRACT: Lichen sclerosus, lichen planus, and lichen simplex chronicus are three of the most common non-neoplastic epithelial disorders of the vulva. Lichen sclerosus is characterized by intense vulvar itching and can affect men and women of all ages, but it manifests most commonly in postmenopausal women. Patients with lichen sclerosus have an increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, and they should be monitored for malignancy. Lichen planus is an inflammatory autoimmune disorder that can affect the vulva and the vagina; it peaks in incidence between ages 30 and 60. There are three clinical variants of lichen planus affecting the vulva: erosive, papulosquamous, and hypertrophic. Lichen simplex chronicus is caused by persistent itching and scratching of the vulvar skin, which results in a thickened, leathery appearance. It is thought to be an atopic disorder in many cases and may arise in normal skin as a result of psychological stress or environmental factors. Definitive diagnosis of non-neoplastic disorders depends on the histology of biopsied tissue. All three disorders are treated with topical corticosteroid ointments of varying potency. Lichen sclerosus and lichen planus are not routinely treated with surgery, which is necessary only in patients who have a malignancy or advanced scarring that causes dyspareunia or clitoral phimosis. Educational counseling teaches patients that even though these chronic disorders cannot be cured, they can be effectively managed.
ABSTRACT: Bartholin's duct cysts and gland abscesses are common problems in women of reproductive age. Bartholin's glands are located bilaterally at the posterior introitus and drain through ducts that empty into the vestibule at approximately the 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock positions. These normally pea-sized glands are palpable only if the duct becomes cystic or a gland abscess develops. The differential diagnosis includes cystic and solid lesions of the vulva, such as epidermal inclusion cyst, Skene's duct cyst, hidradenoma papilliferum, and lipoma. The goal of management is to preserve the gland and its function if possible. Office-based procedures include insertion of a Word catheter for a duct cyst or gland abscess, and marsupialization of a cyst; marsupialization should not be used to treat a gland abscess. Broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy is warranted only when cellulitis is present. Excisional biopsy is reserved for use in ruling out adenocarcinoma in menopausal or perimenopausal women with an irregular, nodular Bartholin's gland mass.
ABSTRACT: Bartholin gland cysts and abscesses are common problems in women of reproductive age. Although the cysts are usually asymptomatic, they may become enlarged or infected and cause significant pain. Often the clinician is tempted simply to lance the cyst or abscess, since this technique can be effective for other common abscesses. However, simple lancing of a Bartholin gland cyst or abscess may result in recurrence. More effective treatment methods include use of a Word catheter and marsupialization, both of which can be performed in the office.
ABSTRACT: Vulvodynia is a problem most family physicians can expect to encounter. It is a syndrome of unexplained vulvar pain, frequently accompanied by physical disabilities, limitation of daily activities, sexual dysfunction and psychologic distress. The patient's vulvar pain usually has an acute onset and, in most cases, becomes a chronic problem lasting months to years. The pain is often described as burning or stinging, or a feeling of rawness or irritation. Vulvodynia may have multiple causes, with several subsets, including cyclic vulvovaginitis, vulvar vestibulitis syndrome, essential (dysesthetic) vulvodynia and vulvar dermatoses. Evaluation should include a thorough history and physical examination as well as cultures for bacteria and fungus, KOH microscopic examination and biopsy of any suspicious areas. Proper treatment mandates that the correct type of vulvodynia be identified. Depending on the specific diagnosis, treatment may include fluconazole, calcium citrate, tricyclic antidepressants, topical corticosteroids, physical therapy with biofeedback, surgery or laser therapy. Since vulvodynia is often a chronic condition, regular medical follow-up and referral to a support group are helpful for most patients.