What is the vulva?
Medically, the term “vulva” covers the female external sex organs. The vulva consists of two sets of lips. The labia majora, which are the outer pair, are covered in public hair. The labia minora, the inner pair, are more delicate and much thinner.
Between these two pairs, you’ll find two openings. The first is the urethra, which is connected to the bladder to let urine out of the body. The other opening is the vagina, which connects to the uterus, or womb. The clitoris is found at the front of the vulva.
What symptoms may occur?
The most common problems which women encounter with their vulva tend to involve itching, pain, discovering lumps and changes in the general look of the vulva’s area. Clearly, the symptoms experienced will depend on the condition which is responsible, and there are plenty of different conditions which may affect the vulva – some more obvious than others.
What infections can affect the vulva?
Some conditions are bacterial infections, while others are sexually transmitted diseases. Bacterial and viral problems can include thrush, where symptoms include white discharge and an irritated, itchy vulva; and chickenpox, where irritating, itchy spots can occur on the vulval area.
Common sexually transmitted diseases can include genital herpes, which results from skin to skin contact with an infected person. You may not even know you have herpes – watch out for blisters or soreness in the vulval area. STDs that affect the vulva also include genital warts, similarly contracted from skin to skin contact with an infected person – these warts usually affect the vulva, although they can grow on your bottom – and scabies and lice, which are parasites similar to head lice but on your pubic and genital area, passed from an infected sexual partner and causing itching and discomfort.
Which skin conditions can affect the vulva?
Believe it or not, even the youngest members of society have vulva problems. Nappy rash on a baby can be classed as a vulval problem, as the body’s waste products irritate the skin of the vulva. For adults, common skin problems such as psoriasis and eczema can cause the same discomfort to the vulva as they would anywhere else on the body.
Less common conditions, such as lichen sclerosus and lichen planus, can affect the vulva. If you have diabetes or a thyroid problem, these are more likely to affect you.
What can cause lumps in the vulva?
Lumps in the vulva are usually the result of an infection, and in some cases, a form of cancer. Sexually transmitted diseases, like syphilis and herpes can be responsible for lumps on the vulva. Treatment for herpes is usually fairly straightforward, involving antifungal medication and painkillers. If you notice any sort of ulcer on your vulva, this may be an early sign of syphilis, an infection which has started to become more common.
Cancer of the vulva is rare, and usually only a problem for women over the age of 60. Constant itching or pain in the vulva is the warning sign to look out for. As long as treatment is sought early, most cases are curable with a small operation.
When to see a gynaecologist
While itching and irritation may seem like a low level problem, you have learned that they can be a warning sign for a potentially bigger problem, and early consultation with a gynaecologist is always advisable. If you find a swelling or lump on your vulva which wasn’t previously there, or are notice any bleeding from the area, see a gynaecologist as soon as you can. The gynaecologist is there to give you advice and prompt treatment for this very delicate part of your body.