Vulvodynia is a multifaceted, chronic, female urogenital pain syndrome that is understudied and carries a substantial psychological and economic burden for women and their families, the healthcare system, and society. Similar to other chronic pain syndromes, the development and maintenance of vulvodynia symptomatology is most likely a complex combination of biological and psychological factors;however, these mechanisms are not well-described or understood and effective treatment remains elusive. An increased understanding of the respective contribution of each of these elements will impart critical information about vulvodynia and provide the crucial first steps for the development of mechanistic-based interventions. In recent years, studies have suggested the underlying mechanisms may vary amongst the multifarious clinical presentations of vulvodynia. Therefore, the purpose of this descriptive study is to thoroughly elucidate the physiological and psychological factors associated with vulvodynia in comparison to women without and test the hypothesis that these mechanisms differ in women with distinct patterns of disease onset, specifically primary (i.e., has always experienced vulvar pain) and secondary (i.e., development of pain following a pain free period) vulvodynia. First, the applicant will assess the neurosensory processing using a comprehensive battery of quantitative sensory testing (QST) methods in 20 women with primary vulvodynia, 20 women with secondary vulvodynia, and 20 age and race matched women without vulvodynia. Training will focus on increasing knowledge in neurophysiology and learning experimental methods in pain research. Second, the applicant will assess psychological factors using self-report measures of fear of pain and catastrophizing (i.e., negative cognitive-affective response to anticipated or actual pain) in the three groups of women. Training will focus on learning methods to accurately assess these psychological factors in a chronic vulvar pain population. A team of senior mentors with expertise in the experimental investigation of neurosensory processing of chronic pain and the neurobiology of urogenital pain disorders will guide the applicant in the proposed research project and throughout her doctoral training. The proposed research aligns well with the NINR's mission to examine the underlying biological mechanisms of symptoms (e.g., pain) associated with disease. Ultimately, findings from this study will inform our knowledge about vulvodynia and will provide direction for future research with regard to development of novel targeted therapies for treatment of vulvodynia.
Vulvodynia is a chronic vulvar pain syndrome that significantly contributes to the $600 billion spent per year on the healthcare expenses and lost work productivity associated with chronic pain. This project will identify factors contributing to the underlying mechanisms of vulvodynia, which will lead to development and implementation of effective preventative and therapeutic measures, potentially reducing healthcare costs and increasing quality of life.