Vulvodynia interventions--systematic review and evidence grading

Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2011 May;66(5):299-315. doi: 10.1097/OGX.0b013e3182277fb7.


Introduction: State of the art guidance exists for management of vulvodynia, but the scientific basis for interventions has not been well described. Although there are many interventional therapies, and their use is increasing, there is also uncertainty or controversy about their efficacy.

Objective: To systematically assess benefits and harms of interventional therapies for vulvodynia and vestibulodynia.

Methods: The following databases were searched, using MeSH terms for studies related to the treatment of vulvodynia or vulva pain/pruritus/dysesthesia/hyperesthesia/hypersensitivity: MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Scopus, Cochrane Library, EBSCO Academic, and Google Scholar. Using Medical Subject Reference sections of relevant original articles, reviews, and evidence-based guidelines were screened manually. Manual searching for indirect evidence supporting interventions was done whenever no direct evidence was found for a treatment described within a review or guideline. Each modality is assessed with a grading system similar to the Grades of Recommendation, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation system. The grading system assesses study quality, effect size, benefits, risks, burdens, and costs.

Results: For improvement of pain and/or function in women with vestibulodynia (provoked localized vulvodynia), there was fair evidence that vestibulectomy was of benefit, but the size of the effect cannot be determined with confidence. There was good evidence of a placebo effect from multiple studies of nonsurgical interventions. There was fair evidence of lack of efficacy for several nonsurgical interventions. There were several interventions for which there were insufficient evidence to reliably evaluate. There was insufficient evidence to judge harms or to judge long-term benefits. For clinically meaningful improvement of pain in women with generalized unprovoked vulvodynia, there was insufficient evidence for benefit of any intervention. There was fair evidence of a placebo effect in people with neuropathic pain and functional pain syndromes, from multiple studies of interventions. Based on indirect evidences from studies of patients with other pain disorders, interventions may be selected for future research.

Conclusion: There is fair evidence for effectiveness of vestibulectomy for vestibulodynia; however, there is uncertainty about the size of the absolute effect, because of the risk of bias inherent in studies of pain interventions without a placebo control group. Providers and patients looking for evidence-based interventions for generalized unprovoked vulvodynia may need to rely on indirect evidences from studies of neuropathic pain and functional pain syndromes.

Target audience: Obstetricians & gynecologists, family physicians.

Learning objectives: After completion of this educational activity, the obstetrician/gynecologist should be better able to identify potential causes of vulvar pain to facilitate diagnosis of vulvodynia and vestibulodynia, distinguish between the symptoms of localized, provoked vulvodynia and generalized unprovoked vulvodynia to select the most appropriate therapies, evaluate the efficacy of surgical and nonsurgical interventions for the treatment of generalized unprovoked and localized, provoked vulvodynia. In addition, assess the benefits and risks of interventional therapies for vulvodynia and vestibulodynia to improve patient care.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Placebo Effect
  • Vulva / surgery*
  • Vulvodynia / etiology
  • Vulvodynia / psychology
  • Vulvodynia / therapy*