It is not clear what causes lichen sclerosis, but it’s suspected the immune system and hormones may both play a role. The disease is not contagious so cannot be passed to others.
Early symptoms include tiny white spots that develop on the vulva (outer female genitalia). The shiny, smooth spots gradually grow into large patches that thin and crinkle. Blisters may also appear. Over time, the skin becomes fragile, tearing and bruising easily. In severe cases, scarring occurs and can lead to narrowing of the vagina.
Itching is the most common symptom in lichen sclerosis and can become so severe as to interfere with sleep and daily routine. When the condition develops in the anal region, it can cause constipation and tearing. Some women with lichen sclerosis avoid sexual intercourse because of pain and bleeding.
Lichen sclerosis is sometimes diagnosed in the gynecologist’s office through visual examination but biopsy may be needed to diagnosis difficult cases or to confirm the diagnosis.
When lichen sclerosis develops in the genital region, it requires treatment by an OB/GYN experienced in the condition. Treatment options include strong steroid cream or ointment to control pain, itch and inflammation. If topical steroids are not effective, your gynecologist may prescribe drugs to suppress the immune system.
Lichen sclerosis does not cause cancer, but cancer is more likely to develop in skin that has been affected by the disease. Frequent medical follow-up is recommended to monitor and control the condition.