Causes of Lichen Planus
The exact cause of lichen planus is not known, although it is suspected the condition can be triggered by:
- Autoimmune diseases such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis
- Nonsteroidal drugs like Advil or ibuprofen
- Medications used to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis or gout
- Some vaccines including those for influenza and hepatitis B
- Certain chemicals or cleansers
Signs and Symptoms of Lichen Planus
Signs of lichen planus are varied. The condition can present with flat, dark pink bumps, white streaks, or large surface areas of white. Blistering sometimes occurs with scabs forming after the blisters burst. The lesions are typically symmetrical and may appear as a single lesion or clusters.
Lichen planus lesions on the labia minora (the small inner lips of the vulva) can cause narrowing of the vaginal opening, making sexual intercourse difficult or painful. The predominant symptom of lichen planus is itching. Other symptoms include burning, tenderness, soreness and/or discharge.
Diagnosing Lichen Planus
A gynecologist can often identify lichen planus upon visual examination, but cultures may be taken to rule out other causes when discharge is present. Since lichen planus of the genital region is more difficult to treat than that of other areas of the body, if symptoms do not resolve with treatment, it may be necessary for your OBGYN to perform a biopsy.
Treatment of Lichen Planus
The first step of treatment is to remove any products that could be responsible for vulvar irritation. Topical steroid ointments and creams are often effective in treating lesions, but vaginal tablets and oral or injectable prescription medications may also be used. Treatment may be long-term.
Early treatment of genital symptoms can help prevent scarring. If scarring has already occurred, vaginal dilators may be used to reduce pain with intercourse.
Women with lichen planus are at a slightly increased risk for vaginal cancer. Although the risk is minimal, it is important for those diagnosed with the condition to schedule regular examinations with a gynecologist.