What Causes Big Labia and What You Can Do About It

Labial hypertrophy can make it look as if your labia is overgrown

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Just like every other part of the body, no two labia are the same. They come in different sizes and may not even be symmetrical. However, if you notice your labia have grown or are growing, it may be due to something called labial hypertrophy, or enlargement of the labia. This condition doesn't always need treatment—it depends on what symptoms (if any) you have.

What are the Labia?

The labia are the lips of the vulva (external female genitalia). The outer lips are called labia majora and the inner lips are called the labia minora. The function of the labia is to protect the clitoris and vagina from trauma.

what is labial hypertrophy

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Symptoms

Labial hypertrophy is simply a term meaning your vaginal lips are larger than average. It most often affects only the labia minora but can affect only the labia majora or both, and it can affect one or both sides. Labial hypertrophy is something you can be born with or develop over time.

Most people with labial hypertrophy don't experience any symptoms or discomfort related to it. Others may deal with some of the symptoms below or all of them. Symptoms can include:

  • Irritation: Especially if the labia minora protrude beyond the labia majora, the excess tissue may be easily irritated by menstrual pads or tight-fitting clothing such as swimsuits, tights, or leotards. In some cases, just the pressure of sitting in a hard chair may cause irritation or pain.
  • Discomfort during exercise or penetrative sex: This is caused by friction against the excess tissues during activities including running, horseback riding, bicycling, and sexual intercourse.
  • Hygiene problems: The larger lips may complicate the use of some feminine hygiene products, such as tampons or menstrual cups. It also may be difficult or painful to clean between the lips.
  • Recurring infections: Difficulty cleaning the outer genitalia may lead to recurrent bacterial overgrowth and yeast infections.
  • Self-consciousness: Especially if labia majora are large, it may create a visible bump in tight clothing like swimsuits and underwear that some people may find embarrassing.

When to See a Doctor

If you don't have any symptoms of labial hypertrophy, you don't need to worry about getting treatment for it. However, you should bring it up with your doctor if:

  • You have symptoms that impact your life
  • You have recurrent infections
  • You have a lot of anxiety or negative emotions regarding your labia

It's typical for the labia minora to swell during sexual arousal, similar to a male erection, but if your labia swell and don't return to their normal size, you should speak to your doctor.

Causes

There's no clear cause of labial hypertrophy. Contrary to what some people believe, it's not caused by masturbation or a sexually transmitted infection. Possible causes of labial hypertrophy include:

  • Genetics: Some people are born with large or irregularly shaped labia.
  • Hormonal events: For unknown reasons, the labia may develop or change abnormally during puberty or after childbirth.
  • Aging: Changes over time may lead to labial hypertrophy.
  • Restrictive clothing: Regularly wearing clothing that's tight against the labia can lead to changes.
  • Active cycling: People who are avid or competitive bicycle riders may experience repeated trauma to the area that leads to the development of a protective layer of fat in the labia majora.

If you're concerned about your labia or changes in your labia, speak to a doctor.

Diagnosis

Doctors don't have specific tests or imaging they use to diagnose labial hypertrophy. A doctor typically diagnoses labial hypertrophy based on a pelvic examination and any vaginal or labial symptoms you may be having. The medical community doesn't have widely accepted guidelines for exactly what does and doesn't constitute labial hypertrophy.

If your doctor believes your labia are within normal parameters or that your anxiety over hypertrophy is excessive, they may screen you for body dysmorphic disorder, which is a mental condition that causes you to see your body in an unrealistic way and obsess over perceived flaws. Many people with eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, have body dysmorphic disorder.

They may also check you for Bartholin gland cysts to see if that could be causing your symptoms. The Bartholin glands are located next to the labia minora near the opening of the vagina. These glands provide lubrication and can, in some cases, get blocked and develop a cyst or, in the case of an infection, an abscess.

Unlike labial hypertrophy, which is uniform, a cyst tends to be one-sided and causes a pea-shaped lump you can feel or, if it's larger, see.

Treatment

Most people who go to the doctor concerned about labial hypertrophy don't actually have it. Others may not have symptoms other than embarrassment. In those cases, treatment may include education about the wide variation in what's considered "normal" and counseling for body acceptance.

In most cases of true labial hypertrophy, the condition doesn't need to be treated. If you do have bothersome symptoms related to the labia minora, though, you have a surgical option known as labiaplasty that can reduce the size of your labia minora, help eliminate symptoms, and make you feel better about how it looks. So far, this is the only treatment known to eliminate the symptoms of hypertrophy.

Labiaplasty

Labiaplasty is an outpatient procedure usually performed by plastic surgeons. They may remove the tissues with surgical cutting tools or use a heat-based technique called radiofrequency (RF) treatment. Several surgical techniques are in use:

  • Deepithelialization: Best suited for minimal hypertrophy, this technique involves removing a small amount of tissue and preserving the overall contour of the labia minora.
  • Direct excision: Tissues are cut away in a straightforward manner; however, the natural color, shape, and texture of the labia minora are lost, a scar may be visible, and the aesthetic outcome is generally considered poor.
  • Wedge resection: The surgeon removes a V-shaped wedge from low on the labia minora, then stitches the edges together. This preserves the natural edge of the tissues and results in a better appearance.

Labiaplasty typically takes less than an hour and may be performed with either local or general anesthesia. Recovery is generally expected to take about six weeks.

A Word From Verywell

If you're worried about the appearance of your labia, rest assured that each person's are unique and yours probably aren't outside of the average range. If you're having symptoms, though, don't hesitate to bring them up with your doctor. Getting to the bottom of what's causing them is the first step toward feeling better, both physically and emotionally.

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