Electrical stimulation may ease vaginal pain

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS is a safe and effective treatment for a type of vaginal pain called vestibulodynia, Italian researchers report.

Vestibulodynia is commonly described as a burning type of pain located at the opening of the vagina. Intercourse, tampon insertion, and wearing tight clothing are among the activities that may bring on the pain.

Although many women experience vestibulodynia, the cause is not fully understood, Dr. Filippo Murina and colleagues, from V. Buzzi Hospital in Milan, say. The current thought is that nerve damage occurs, which alters pain perception, a problem seen with many chronic pain conditions.

TENS involves nerve stimulation through the skin with mild levels of electricity. Because TENS has shown promise in treating a number of chronic pain conditions, the researchers reasoned that it may be effective for vestibulodynia as well.

As reported in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Murina’s team randomly assigned 40 women with vestibulodynia to undergo real or “sham” TENS treatments delivered with a vaginal probe twice weekly for a total of 20 sessions. Pain levels were assessed before and immediately after treatment and at 3 months.

Using standard pain scales and questionnaires, the investigators found that the TENS group experienced significant improvements in their pain, whereas the sham group did not. Pain during intercourse and sexual function also improved with TENS.

While the results are encouraging, TENS is probably not a one-time cure for vestibulodynia, the investigators caution.

The effect of TENS may decline with time. Moreover, 3 of 15 women who showed normal sexual function scores after treatment relapsed 3 months later, the researchers note. “A maintenance treatment program to achieve a more lasting beneficial effect might be needed in these cases.”

SOURCE: BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, August 2008.

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