Vulvar Swelling: Identifying Causes and Treatment

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Update Date 22/07/2020 . 7 mins read
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Vulvar swelling and bruising is usually harmless but may cause some discomfort. Learn about the causes and how to prevent them from recurring.

What is Vulvar Swelling?

Vaginal or vulvar swelling may be recurring. While most cases are harmless, it may also indicate severe illnesses. Vaginal or vulvar swelling can either be generalized or present in a specific area. 

Generalize swelling. This is also referred to as edema. Edema occurs when there is excess fluid in the body’s tissues. As a result, the skin becomes red and swollen.

Edema may be due to allergic reactions and exposure to irritants. Other times, it may be a symptom of an infection, such as yeast infection.

Defined swelling. On the other hand, defined areas of vaginal or vulvar swelling may be caused by cysts or tumors. Cysts may also form along the vaginal walls due to trauma or birth defects. 

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What Are the Symptoms of Vaginal Swelling? 

In general, vulvar swelling is easily treated. However, you should also look out for signs of infection, especially when the swelling is accompanied by severe pain and discomfort. 

The most common symptoms accompanying vaginal swelling are:

Vaginal swelling can also be accompanied by symptoms that are more uncommon. These include:

When Should I See My Doctor? 

Vulvar swelling is not usually a cause of concern. In most cases, it goes away on its own or is easily treated. However, it may also indicate a serious health condition.

Seek medical help when the symptoms become too painful, unbearable, or if it comes back even after treatment. Anyone who experiences a swollen vagina or vulva should also look out for signs of infection, such as high fever and fatigue. 

What Causes Vulvar Swelling? 

Vulvar swelling may have multiple causes. The following are possible causes of vaginal or vulvar swelling, along with corresponding treatment options: 

1. Irritants

The vagina is a sensitive part of the body. It may react adversely once it comes in contact with certain products, such as personal care items. The chemicals and ingredients contained in these products may trigger an allergic reaction. These may cause the vagina to swell. Irritants can be found in the most basic, everyday use items, including:

  • Laundry detergents
  • Soaps
  • Perfumes
  • Scented toilet paper
  • Lubricants
  • Vaginal sprays and douches
  • Tampons and pads
  • Vaginal suppositories
  • Latex condoms

Wearing tight clothing and ill-fitting undergarments can also cause vulvar swelling and bruising. For example, lace underwear can be itchy, thus can irritate the skin. Thongs and G-strings cannot fully cover the labia. This may cause unnecessary friction that leads to swelling. 

Treatment for swelling caused by irritants

 The easiest way to prevent this is to avoid the irritant itself. If you notice an unusual reaction from a new product, stop using it. Opt to use plain water and soap to wash your genitals since scented ones can cause irritation.

Moreover, choose clothes or undergarments made from loose fabrics, such as cotton. This will prevent heat moisture from getting trapped in your genitals, leading to infection. It helps to consult with a dermatologist in case the irritant cannot be identified.

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2. Sexual intercourse

 A swollen vagina may be due to sexual intercourse, especially without proper lubrication. The added friction causes pain and discomfort during and after sex. Rough sex can damage vaginal tissues leading to an infection. 

Treatment for swelling caused by sex

Over-the-counter pills or anti-inflammatory drugs can help relieve pain, along with the swelling. Ibuprofen is an example of a pain killer you can buy. To reduce unnecessary friction during intercourse, engage in foreplay more, or use lubricant products. 

3. Infection

Vulvar swelling and bruising may also indicate problems within the vagina. This is most likely due to an infection by bacteria, including: 

  • Cellulitis. This occurs when a cut becomes infected by bacteria, especially during prolonged treatment. The bacteria affects the inner layers of the skin causing it to become red and swollen. 
  • Yeast infection. A swollen vagina is one of the main symptoms of yeast infection. Yeast infection occurs when there is an overgrowth of Candida albicans, a type of fungus which affects the vagina’s environment. It is a common condition affecting 75% of women once at least once in their lives.
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV). This condition is caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the vagina. It disrupts the normal balance of your vaginal pH.  Women ages 14 to 49 years old are likely to experience this at 29.2% prevalence. Apart from vaginal swelling, BV also causes foul vaginal odor and thick discharge.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These include gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis. In most cases, symptoms are not usually visible until getting diagnosed. However, vaginal swelling is prevalent, along with discomfort in urination and bleeding. 

Treatment of swelling caused by infection

To prevent the further spread of bacteria, it is important to keep the vaginal area clean and dry. You might also want to get checked by a doctor for more accurate treatment. For cellulitis and bacterial vaginosis, your doctor may recommend antibiotics to speed up recovery. Yeast infections can be treated with antifungal medications. If you suspect you have an STI, get tested immediately. 

vulvar swelling and bruising

4. Cysts and Abscess

Vulvar swelling may be due to underlying health conditions marked by cysts and abscess. These include: 

  • Bartholin’s cysts. Bartholin glands are found on either side of the vaginal opening. Its primary function is to secrete moisture useful for lubrication. When blocked, it can cause swelling in the vagina. If left untreated, the cysts could develop into an infection and form abscess. It affects 2% in women, especially those in their 20s.
  • Gartner’s duct cysts. A Gartner’s duct refers to the remaining tissue formed in fetuses during the development of their urinary and sexual organs. This tissue usually goes away after birth but if not, can attach itself to the vaginal walls forming cysts. It causes extreme pain and swelling in the vaginal area. 

Treatment for sweeping caused by cysts and abscess

Cysts are usually small and harmless. They are easily treated and drain on their own. However, if a cyst becomes larger and develops pus, surgical drainage or removal is recommended. Some doctors will also prescribe antibiotics. 

5. Pregnancy

Vulvar swelling is normal during pregnancy. This is due to the added pressure on the pelvis and nearby blood vessels as the fetus grows. As a result, normal blood flow is affected leading to inflammation and swelling.  

Treatment

Improve blood circulation by lying down or elevating your feet frequently throughout the day. You may also opt to wear compression clothing to relieve vulvar swelling and bruising. If symptoms persist, consult with your doctor about safe medications. 

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

Risk Factors

What increases my risk of vaginal swelling? 

There are many risk factors for vaginal or vulvar swelling, including: 

  • Use of scented personal care products
  • Douching 
  • Poor hygiene
  • Wearing tight and ill-fitting clothing
  • Engaging in rough sexual intercourse
  • Unprotected sex
  • Vaginal trauma
  • Insertion of foreign objects in the vagina

Diagnosis

How is vaginal swelling diagnosed? 

Vulvar swelling can easily be diagnosed with your symptoms alone. Your doctor will ask for your medical history, as well as sexual habits to help identify possible contributing factors to the swelling. Moreover, there are a couple of tests your doctor may recommend to rule out infections and other health complications. These include:

  • Physical exam. This is to check for injuries, swelling, and other visible changes on the vagina’s surrounding areas
  • Vaginal or vulvar swab. This is used when the swelling is accompanied by abdominal pain, bleeding, and unusual discharge. This is also taken to test for infections, such as STIs. 
  • Biopsy. A sample of tissue is collected from the vagina to determine the cause of swelling. This is also done if lumps suddenly appear along the vaginal walls. 
  • Discharge analysis. A sample of vaginal discharge is collected for evaluation. 

Lifestyle Changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes and home remedies that can help me manage vaginal swelling? 

Treatment for vulvar swelling and bruising is usually dependent on the cause. Usually, it can be treated with antibiotics or antifungal medications. Surgical intervention is recommended, especially for the removal of cysts and lumps. 

Apart from these, observing proper hygiene is one of the most effective ways to manage or prevent vaginal or vulvar swelling. In most cases, vaginal swelling has a lot to do with bacterial infection. It is best to keep your genitals dry and clean. Avoid scented products that may irritate your skin, including personal care items. 

There are also home remedies you can try for a swollen vagina or vulva: 

  • Ice packs. Apply ice packs or cold compress on affected areas to relieve pain and reduce swelling.
  • Probiotics. Studies show that probiotics are effective in the treatment of infections such as bacterial vaginosis. Types of probiotic-rich food include greek yogurt, miso, pickles, and kefir. 
  • Sitz bath. This is done by sitting in a warm, shallow bath to relieve pain in your genitals. This is commonly used for Bartholin’s cysts to help with the drainage. 
  • Apple cider vinegar. This is a popular remedy for when you have a yeast infection. The acidic component of vinegar can kill harmful microorganisms, including yeast. Consider adding half a cup of apple cider vinegar to your bathwater. 

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you. 

Key Takeaways

Vulvar swelling and bruising is not usually a cause of concern. In most cases, it heals on its own. However, it may also indicate a severe illness, especially if the swelling is accompanied by other symptoms.

Vaginal swelling may be a direct result of exposure to irritants, bacterial infection, or sexual intercourse. There are many treatment options for a swollen vagina or vulva. These are usually predetermined by the underlying cause.

Some cases are treated by antibiotics or antifungal medications alone. But for cases characterized by cysts and lumps, surgical intervention is required. Maintaining proper hygiene is one of the most effective ways to manage or prevent vaginal or vulvar swelling

Learn more about Women’s Health here

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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