Many women suffer from persistent vaginal and vulvar infections. They have been treated by their doctors repeatedly only to have the infections recur again and again. Unfortunately, the cause is often not an infection at all but, instead, one of the vulvar skin disorders. At the Southern Institute for Women’s Sexual Health (SIWSH) with offices in Covington and New Orleans, LA, Dr. Katherine Williams is trained to accurately recognize accurately and effectively treat the true cause of the problem so that her patients can finally get relief. One all too common and often overlooked cause is Lichen Sclerosus (LS).
With an incidence of 1-2 per 100 gynecology patients (1), Lichen Sclerosus is a condition of the skin that can be found anywhere on the body. It can develop at any age, young and old, but is often seen in women who are hormone deficient, such as those who are pre-pubescent or post-menopausal. Common symptoms include burning, itching and pain with intercourse.
Women with LS may notice small white patches of skin on the vulva (the area around the vaginal opening) and the anus. The white patches of skin may be thin, smooth and shiny, and will become larger over time if left untreated. The patches may also appear wrinkly, tear and bruise easily and, if severe, end up blistering and ulcerated.
Found on other parts of the body, Lichen Sclerosus usually goes away on its own; however, when LS of the vulva is allowed to progress, it can result in severe scarring. This scarring can become so extensive that it may interfere with urination and sex, making them both intensely painful or even impossible without surgical intervention.
Dr. Williams explains, “Failure to diagnose or properly treat Lichen Sclerosus can completely change the architecture of the vulva. The labia and clitoris can scar together leading to profound sexual dysfunction.”
Additionally, the scarred areas affected by LS have an increased chance of changing into vulvar cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, 4 % of women affected by Lichen Sclerosus will develop vulvar cancer. Dr. Williams ensures that her patients have proper management and periodic exams to ensure the best outcomes.
Topical steroids are the most common treatment for Lichen Sclerosus but sometimes more aggressive treatments are necessary. For some women the scarring is so profound that surgical intervention is needed. Dr. Williams is specially trained in these treatments and surgeries to help affected women achieve comfort and intimacy again.
Lichen Sclerosus is a common vulvar skin disorder that is often misdiagnosed and undertreated. Early diagnosis and proper treatment is important to avoid the potentially devastating consequences of this chronic disease. If you suspect you may have Lichen Sclerosus or are suffering from recurrent vaginal or vulvar infection, call SIWSH at 985-249-7022 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Katherine Williams.
(1) Goldstein, AT et al. Prevalence of vulvar lichen sclerosus in a general gynecology practice. Journal of Reproductive Medicine. 2005 Jul;50(7):477-80.