Reasons Why You Might Have Swollen Vagina or Vulva - Blood + Milk
swollen vagina

Reasons Why You Might Have Swollen Vagina or Vulva

Vaginal swelling can be, as expected, a rather unpleasant experience. After all, who wants to feel any irritation or discomfort down there? However, if you are experiencing vaginal swelling, there are various possible reasons as well as solutions. 

Here are some of the things that may be causing you to have a swollen vagina or vulva, when it’s a problem, and what you can do about it. 

After Sexual Intercourse 

“Women may notice a slight swelling in the vulva or vaginal area after sex. This is usually nothing to worry about,” says Sara Twogood, MD, FACOG, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Southern California. “Sexual arousal causes increased blood flow to the genital area and may look like swelling.” 

Sex is “like any other impact activity,” explains Kathryn Garren, WHNP-BC of Ideal Gynecology in Atlanta, Georgia, and if you “continuously impact an area, the area will begin to swell.” (This explains why you may also experience vaginal swelling after exercise, like bike riding, too.) 

This can be especially prevalent during rough sex, which Twogood says “can cause swelling due to friction and the body’s response.” Swelling from sex, particularly that of a rougher nature, is usually nothing to worry about and typically only lasts a few hours. Twogood says, however, “if the irritation doesn’t resolve or there is associated bleeding then you may want to be examined.” 

During Pregnancy 

Vaginal swelling is incredibly common during pregnancy because of things like increased blood flow, hormones, the pressure placed on the pelvic area as the baby grows, and the general swelling that occurs in the body. “Most women notice this in their extremities (hands and feet), but it can be significant in the vulvar region as well,” Twogood says. 

She also notes that pregnant women may notice what’s known as vulvar varicosities, “which are prominent blood vessels seen under the skin. These can make the vulva appear larger and heavier, just like swelling.” 

Reactions to the Skin

“Allergic reactions cause an immune and inflammatory response that includes swelling, redness, or itching,” says Garren. 

Another reaction, Twogood explains, is due to something called contact dermatitis, which is sometimes confused with an allergy. “Contact dermatitis is when a substance—laundry detergent, perfume, etc.—causes damage to the skin or exposed area itself.”

In order to avoid swelling from this, Garren suggests avoiding fragrances in your soaps, tampons, pads, and detergents whenever possible. “Also, it is important to wear cotton underwear that is not irritating to the skin,” she says. 

Due to a Yeast Infection 

The inflammation that occurs during a yeast infection can, in fact, cause mild swelling. This is because, Garren explains, “Anytime there is an infection (yeast, bacterial, or sexually transmitted), the body releases inflammatory markers that cause swelling in order to help rid the body of infection.” 

Temporary swelling and irritation can also occur, unfairly enough, in certain vaginal topical treatments for yeast infections. This is “more common with the one and 3-day course [treatments],” Twogood says, adding, “ I usually recommend the seven days course for this reason.” 

Garren notes that the swelling will go down as soon as the body is done fighting the infection. “Swelling should never last longer than seven days if treated correctly.” 

Other Reasons You May Be Experiencing Swelling 

“Infection, like cellulitis or an abscess, can cause swelling. This type of infection in the vulvar area is more common in immunocompromised women, such as those with HIV/AIDS and very poorly controlled diabetes,” explains Twogood. 

Cysts may also be a cause for vulvar or vaginal swelling, the most common of which is known as the Bartholin gland cyst, which can also be an abscess, Twogood says. 

“Vulvar or vaginal ulcers, from STIs, or even cancer or precancerous lesions can cause swelling,” she says, adding, “An open sore can increase the risk of infection, and it can be difficult to tell if the sore caused the infection or the infection caused the sore.” 

So, in any of these cases—particularly if the swelling becomes noticeable or uncomfortable, or there is abnormal bleeding, skin changes, lumps, bumps, change in odor, and/or discharge—Garren says “it is best to see a provider to determine the source of swelling.” 

How to Soothe Swelling 

There are a number of ways you can help relieve swelling at home, including, Garren suggests, “applying cool ice packs to the area.” 

If you’re having an allergic-type reaction, Twogood says “antihistamines, like Claritin and Benadryl, may help.” The same goes for applying a topical hydrocortisone cream, and “Ibuprofen can help with inflammation and pain.” 

“Sitz baths can help with irritation and inflammation,” Twogood says. “However, topical treatments can sometimes irritate or temporarily hide the underlying cause, so if the symptoms are persistent or return despite home remedies, it’s a good idea to see a gynecologist for a diagnosis.” 

In fact, it’s better to go see your healthcare provider when you’re having your symptoms, so you can be evaluated and get to the root cause of the swelling. 

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