If you'd like to share your story through my blog, or if you'd like to write a guest post about a pelvic-pain topic, please email me at madpeachblog [a] gmail.
My vulvodynia story basically started after I began having regular sex about 10 years ago. Soon afterwards I started to have recurrent thrush infections and sex was ALWAYS painful. Even when I treated the thrush, the pain, redness and irritation didn't seem to go away entirely. Sex hurt and I was left with a burning feeling for up to an hour afterwards. About eighteen months later I had a pap smear which identified CIN1 and HPV cells. CIN1 is low grade abnormality which needed to be monitored and eventually cleared itself without needing treatment. The vulvodynia and thrush infections continued, even when my partner used thrush treatments as well.
After a few years of this I also began to have bacterial infections and was mixing antibiotics and thrush treatments and not getting any better, in fact I was getting worse. Treatment would provide a few days of relief before the symptoms reappeared. I had countless swabs taken. Many times they would come back with thrush or bacterial infections but just as often the swabs would come back clear even though my bits were red raw, inflamed and hurt to even touch.
Most doctors would tell me the only treatment for the thrush was over-the-counter thrush treatments and to keep using them. One doctor listened to me carefully describing all the symptoms I'd noticed and prescribed me a low-dose antidepressant for vulvodynia – just like Charlotte in 'Sex in the City'. Things didn’t improve. Another doctor prescribed me steroid cream which only aggravated the symptoms.
All the irritation and infections led to me getting two Bartholin's cysts - one either side. I had to have one of them marsupialized after it grew so big I couldn’t sit down properly. I still have one cyst but it isn't causing me problems.
Because of the vulvodynia and infections, I had to give up using tampons as they were painful to insert and remove and seemed to increase the chance of a thrush infection. I had to stop eating yoghurt (especially natural varieties), bread, citrus fruits & pineapple juice. One time a large piece of skin peeled off my nether regions after eating too much citrus, it simply made my urine too acidic for my own skin to handle. I avoided exercise which would make me sweat unless I could shower straight away and had difficulty riding a bike due to the discomfort. And obviously, I avoided sex as much as I could.
I should also note that over this time I was also suffering from chronic fatigue that has even made working full-time difficult and ruined my social life. The chronic fatigue was from glandular fever, CMV and Barmah forest infections. My immune system was completely battered and worn out.
Eventually I came across an article that said thrush infections can clear up without treatment. That was when I stopped using treatments for the thrush and bacteria. I stayed away from things I knew made the vulvodynia worse and stopped treatments. Surprisingly it seemed to help. I had gotten to the point where treatments were causing as much, if not more, irritation that the mysterious cause itself.
Since I first started experiencing vulvodynia there have only been two times I can remember that I have experienced relief from my symptoms. The first was after a major cold sore attack (on my mouth) and I was prescribed anti-viral drugs. There were one or two months were I was symptom free before the pain and irritation returned. I should note here that I do not have genital herpes, I have been tested countless times and don’t experience blistering, but the drugs must have helped my immune system or something.
The next time I had relief from symptoms was during the course of Gardasil - a vaccination against HPV. For some reason my symptoms would disappear within days of the shot and then return before the next shot was due (Gardasil is a three-shot treatment over a number of months). When I realised the connection I began to think I had some sort of virus that was causing all the issues but as I’ve said, nothing had ever been detected before.
When I found out I was pregnant, apart from the usual joys and fears, I was worried about whether I would pass something onto my child during childbirth as well as how my bits would cope with the trauma of childbirth while they were already irritated. Thankfully I delivered a healthy child naturally with the help of an epidural and didn’t even need stitching afterwards.
My healthy child was diagnosed with dairy intolerance and suspected reflux at eight weeks. She also had a case of oral thrush even earlier than that from which I developed nipple thrush. Coincidence? Perhaps. But seriously! Also, the vulvodynia was present throughout my pregnancy and after.
Only a few months ago I went to the naturopath for my daughters intolerances. The naturopath prescribed me a probiotic: Bioceuticals SB Floractiv. Most probiotic tablets contain bacteria but this one contains a yeast: Saccharomyces cerevisiae (boulardii). This particular yeast can create ‘killer toxins’ that are safe for humans but deadly to other forms of yeast. I took one tablet a day for a few weeks and only experienced some minor constipation which was relieved by drinking plenty of water and adding psyllium husks to my breakfast cereal. All my symptoms have disappeared and six months later I am still waiting for a relapse. But the best part is I’m finally having sex and enjoying it. “IT” finally feels the way Hollywood tells us it’s supposed to feel.
NOTE: I really really hope that sharing my story helps you in some way. Apart from the Floractiv there have been other changes that I’ve made which have helped both the vulvodynia and chronic fatigue. Drink plenty of water; add psyllium husks to your diet; cut down on dairy foods, sugar and anything that is processed; no caffeine (I’m super sensitive to its effects); no alcohol; use plenty of lubrication when having sex, too much is better than not enough; go and pee straight after sex, if it hurts then pee in the shower as the water will dilute the urine; if you do need to use a thrush treatment, use a low dose cream over a longer period of time instead of a pessary; get enough sleep, ‘enough’ is a different amount for everyone.