Finding a lump is something that we all feel slightly nervous about, but finding a lump in our vagina can feel all the more nerve-wracking due to our lack of knowledge around this area.
Many of the lumps and bumps we find down there aren't anything to worry about and will disappear on their own. However, it is important to understand when a lump is worth seeking help for.
Before getting into the possible causes of bumps on the vulva and vagina regions, it's important to note that for some people, these skin changes might be harder to spot when they first pop up. If you don't remove your pubic hair, it's a good idea to bring up any unusual skin changes or symptoms you've had when you see your gynaecologist, since they might not be able to actually see them.
Plus, if you have a darker skin tone, vulva skin conditions may be more difficult to notice, especially if the skin in the genital area is protected by pubic hair, so it's important you get better acquainted with your nether regions yourself.
To help us all get a little more clued up on what actually causes vaginal lumps and what to do about them, we spoke to Dr Narendra Pisal, consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology.
Here, he explains a bit more about the different varieties of lumps you might find in your vagina and what treatment — if any — is needed for each.
So, firstly, what is a vaginal lump?
'Vaginal lumps can be of various sizes and can occur due to various reasons. A number of organs such as the bladder, rectum and the uterus itself are close the vaginal lining and can be responsible for some of these lumps,' Dr Pisal explains.
'Ingrowing hairs may also be the cause of ‘bumps’ on the vaginal lining which can lead to a painful pink or red bump to appear. The bump may be hard or soft and pus-filled. It can also become itchy, inflamed, or infected. Ingrowing hairs can be caused by various hair removal techniques whether it’s using hair removal creams or waxing, so if you are prone to them in this area perhaps look to change to an alternative hair removal option.
'Sweating may also be the cause of bumps. The vagina does not have sweat glands, so the vagina cannot sweat, but there are sweat glands in the skin of the vulva, groin, thighs and perineum. It is normal to sweat through the skin as it controls the temperature especially say during a strenuous workout or exercise.
'The type of sweat from these areas is different from skin on the arms and legs as the sweat glands are apocrine glands, where the sweat is discharged through the opening of the hair follicles. Hence, there is increased risk of infection in these areas and it is important to shower after exercise and change to dry clothes as soon as possible.'
However, there are other types of lumps that aren't as straightforward, might not go away on their own and might be a sign of something bigger that needs to be dealt with. Below, Dr Pisal talks us through some of the different varieties and what they mean.
What are the more serious vaginal lumps to look out for?
A Bartholin’s Cyst or Abscess: Bartholin’s glands lie on either side of the vaginal opening (junction of upper two third and lower third) and provide lubrication during intercourse. If there is any blockage, the secretions can collect behind causing a cyst. If the cyst gets infected, it can become a painful abscess.
This swelling can cause significant pain and tenderness during any activity, such as walking or sex, and seeking medical attention may then be necessary. Drainage of the abscess by a procedure called ‘marsupialisation’ can be carried out under local or (usually) general anaesthesia.
Uterovaginal prolapse: This can occur due to a weak pelvic floor and is often precipitated by childbirth and menopause. Bladder prolapse (cystocoele) can be seen on the anterior (upper) wall of the vagina and can cause symptoms such as frequent urinary infections, incomplete emptying of bladder, urinary frequency, urgency and sometimes accidental leakage (incontinence).
Rectocele is prolapse of the back wall of the vagina and can cause symptoms such as constipation as well as discomfort during sex. Sometimes the uterus can prolapse and the cervix can be felt lower down in the vagina and occasionally at the entrance or even outside. Pelvic floor exercises are important to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and sometimes surgical repair may be needed.
Vaginal cysts: There are several glands under the vaginal lining and these can get blocked leading to formation of vaginal cysts. These cysts can often remain asymptomatic and only need surgical treatment if causing any symptoms.
Vaginal warts: Human papilloma virus (HPV) can cause genital warts and can also affect the vaginal mucosa (the mucous membranes of the vagina). Often these warts will resolve themselves and no treatment is needed, however, sometimes laser or diathermy vaporisation might be required for persistent warts.
Vaginal cancer: Vaginal cancer is extremely rare and is often initiated by persistent HPV infections. The precancerous cells are often picked up by the smear test (the smear is primarily aimed at detecting cervical precancer) so it's important you keep up to date with these.
The symptoms can be an irregular lump with bleeding and discharge. A referral to a colposcopy clinic or rapid access clinic will be made by your GP, if they feel it is necessary, so that a diagnosis can be made as soon as possible.
When should you seek further medical attention for vaginal lumps?
Previous studies have shown that many of us aren't overly familiar with the 'normal anatomy' of this area. Add to that the fact that it can be difficult to see or feel lumps or bumps in your vagina and it can feel near impossible to really understand what's going on.
Although many lumps are harmless and will go away on their own — as outlined above — if you experience symptoms such as pressure down below, difficulty and discomfort during sex, vaginal pain, or abnormal bleeding, you should see your GP or your practice nurse.
Practice nurses often do the smear tests and will often be able to tell you if you need to see a gynaecologist.
If you identify a persistent vaginal lump or lumps, consult your local GP or contact London Gynaecology by phoning the 24 hour telephone number (0207 1011700).
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