By Riva Preil
Lichen sclerosus (LS) is an inflammatory skin disorder which can affect the vulva. The most common symptom associated with LS is itching of the skin. In addition, many women with LS report cracking of the vulvar skin which may lead to painful intercourse and/or pain during passing a bowel movement. Flattening of the labia minora often occurs as well, and women often confuse LS with hemorrhoids. LS in and of itself is not an autoimmune disease, but it is often associated with autoimmune diseases such as thyroid issues. There seems to be a genetic component involved with LS, and very often women who have been diagnosed with LS discover that their mothers or grandmothers experience similar symptoms.
As with all skin disorders, LS can be managed (as opposed to cured). It is diagnosed via skin biopsy, and doctors often prescribe clobetasol (a strong steroid cream) to manage the symptoms. Some women find that petroleum jelly application improves the tissue suppleness and decreases tearing and pain during intercourse and bowel movements. Laser and surgical treatment approaches should be avoided due to the lack of significant improvements shown by research. If you or someone you know presents with symptoms similar to LS, please speak to your health care provider to explore further medical care.