What Causes Vaginal Swelling?

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The vagina and vulva are sensitive parts of the anatomy, and there are a number of reasons why either might experience swelling.

Swelling of the vagina, the inside part of the genital anatomy, can be related to an infection, a cyst, or even sexual arousal. Swelling of the vulva, the outside part of genital anatomy (including the labia minora and majora), can also have many causes. Chafing, infection, sex, or allergies can all be reasons for the vulva to swell.

What Causes a Swollen Vagina or Vulva?

There are a number of reasons why someone might end up with a swollen vagina or vulva. They can generally be broken down into infectious and non-infectious causes.

Infections are things like sexually transmitted diseases, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis. These may require medical treatment to go away.

Non-infectious causes of genital swelling include things like chafing and irritation of an allergic reaction. These may be the result of the types of underwear or menstrual supplies you are using, laundry detergent, and other topical irritants. Irritation from sex can also sometimes lead to vulvar or vaginal swelling.

Not all vaginal swelling is abnormal. For example, it is natural for your vagina and vulva to swell when you are sexually aroused. Other types of vaginal swelling, such as irritation from bike riding, may be self-limited.

However, if your symptoms last for more than a couple of days, reach out to your doctor. They can help you determine what is causing your symptoms. Then you can work on a plan for treatment or prevention.

Other symptoms to keep an eye out for include:

More information about specific reasons you may be experiencing a swollen vagina or vulva is below.

Irritation or Allergy 

Irritation from something your skin has been in contact with can cause the vulva to swell. Rubbing and moisture trapped against the skin can both cause swelling. Contact dermatitis is a more specific type of skin reaction to an irritating substance.

Finally, allergies can sometimes lead to swelling. Some items that can lead to an allergy or other reaction of the vulva and vagina include:

  • Laundry detergent
  • Bubble baths
  • Body soaps
  • Spermicide and sexual lubricants
  • Latex condoms
  • Pads, tampons, and other menstrual products

If you experience vaginal irritation after making a change in your hygiene routine, take notice. You may be experiencing a reaction to the new soap or product. Similarly, if you’re experiencing swelling when you have your period, make certain you’re using appropriate menstrual products and changing them as recommended.

Infection

A variety of infections can lead to vaginal swelling; not all of them are necessarily sexually transmitted. Infections that can irritate the vagina and vulva include:

New lesions or sores that appear on your vulva are always a reason to see a doctor. However, many people experience recurrent bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections. Since yeast can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medications, some people may seek treatment on their own.

That said, not everything is a yeast infection. If you are experiencing what you think are frequent yeast infections, and OTC treatment isn’t working, see a doctor. Something else may be going on, and only the correct treatment will help.

Sexual Health

Sex can lead to a swollen vagina—both in fun ways and not. Sexual arousal leads to swelling of the vagina and vulva as blood flow increases to the area. This is normal and healthy. Swelling from sexual arousal should go away in a couple of hours after sexual activity and arousal have ceased.

Sometimes sex can also lead to irritation and cause swelling that’s a bit less enjoyable. Using proper lubrication during sexual penetration can help reduce the risk of this type of swelling. Rough sex, or prolonged sex, can also lead to swelling. That’s fine if it’s something you enjoy. If not, it’s appropriate to ask your partner to stop.

If you have experienced sexual assault or forced sex, help is available. Talk to a trained healthcare professional or reach out to your local rape crisis center for support.

Getting Help After Assault

The Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN) is an organization that provides support to individuals that have experienced sexual violence. Among other types of support, they offer the national sexual assault hotline. The hotline, which can be reached at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), is available 24 hours a day and is free and confidential.

In addition to the phone hotline, RAINN offers free, confidential support via chat on its website. They also have educational material about sexual assault prevention and recovery.

If you think you need to call the HOPE hotline, call. Trained support operators are available to assist you in getting the help you need. There is no judgment. There is just assistance connecting you to support, medical care, and local authorities—if that is what you want.

Pregnancy

A lot of changes happen to the body during pregnancy. One of them may be swelling of the vulva. As your pregnancy progresses, there is increased blood flow to the entire pelvis. That can lead to vaginal swelling. Circulation issues that are common during pregnancy can also affect the vulva.

If you are experiencing swelling in your feet, legs, and vulva, it may be useful to talk to your pregnancy care provider about how to address it. You may need to keep your feet up, wear compression garments, or make other, more significant changes. You should also reach out to your doctor if swelling is severe, sudden, or doesn’t go away with rest.

Cyst

A cyst is defined as an abnormal collection of fluid. There are several types of cysts that can present as swelling in the vagina and vulva.

Bartholin glands contribute to vaginal lubrication. They are located near the entrance of the vagina and can occasionally become blocked due to an infection or another cause. When this happens, Bartholin’s cysts may occur. While these do not always need treatment, you should see your doctor if they become painful, or if you have a fever or other signs of infection.

Gartner’s duct cysts are another common type of vaginal cyst. They occur in remnants of tissue from the Wolffian ducts, which develop into the epididymis, vas deferens, and seminal vesicles during testosterone-driven fetal development. These cysts do not require treatment unless they are causing bothersome symptoms or other concerns.

Chafing 

Chafing can also lead to a swollen vagina and vulva. Chafing is another word for rubbing that leads to irritation. Things that can lead to genital chafing include exercises, like cycling, that put protracted pressure and stress on those tissues. Chafing can also occur from wearing pants or underwear that are too tight.

If chafing is causing your vaginal swelling, a behavior change may be all that’s needed. You may need to change the type of clothing you are wearing or use skin lubricants designed for exercise.

If your swelling is related to bike riding, you might also consider exploring different types of bicycle seats. However, chafing and discomfort can continue to occur as you get used to frequent riding.

It’s a good idea to shower and change after you exercise. That cleans away sweat and debris from any irritated skin. It also gives it a chance to dry out, which can reduce the risk of problems occurring later in the day.

Ease Vaginal Swelling

A cool compress may help relieve the discomfort of a swollen vagina. Rest and elevation of the legs and hips may also help more generally. However, effective treatment depends on understanding the cause. What is good for one type of swelling may increase irritation for another.

As a rule of thumb, if a product or activity causes your vulva to swell, stopping using/doing it will help. Also stop using any products you think may be irritating your vagina. Consider taking a day or two off if you think the swelling resulted from a particular type of exercise.

If you think an infection caused your swollen vagina, talk to your doctor. They can make a diagnosis and provide appropriate treatment. People who experience frequent yeast infections may be able to treat them on their own, but not all vaginal infections are caused by yeast.

If you don’t know the reason for your vaginal swelling, you may want to consider abstaining from sex until a cause is determined. That will reduce the risk of sharing a sexually transmitted infection with a partner. It will also reduce the risk of further irritation caused by sexual activity.

When to See a Doctor

A swollen vagina doesn’t necessarily require a trip to see a doctor. However, some circumstances of vaginal or vulvar swelling should lead you to seek medical care. These include cases where vaginal swelling is accompanied by:

  • Fever
  • Changes in vaginal discharge, particularly if there is a foul odor and/or symptoms of irritation
  • Sores or other visible lesions
  • Pain with urination or sex
  • Pain that makes it difficult to function

You should consider talking with a healthcare professional if the swelling doesn’t go away within a couple of days, even in the absence of more problematic symptoms. They will be able to check for an infection or other condition that needs medical treatment. They may also be able to recommend OTC treatments to help with pain, if appropriate.

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Article Sources
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