Vestibulodynia: Understanding Pathophysiology and Determining Appropriate Treatments

Study Purpose

Vestibulodynia (VBD) is a complex chronic vulvar pain condition that impairs the psychological, physical, and sexual health of 1 in 6 reproductive aged women in the United States. Here, the investigators plan to conduct a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial to 1) compare the efficacy of peripheral (lidocaine/estradiol cream), centrally-targeted (nortriptyline), and combined treatments in alleviating pain and improving patient-reported outcomes and 2) determine cytokine and microRNA biomarkers that predict treatment response in women with distinct VBD subtypes. Positive findings from this study will readily translate to improved patient care, permitting the millions of women with VBD, their partners, and their clinicians to make more informed decisions about pain management.

Recruitment Criteria

Accepts Healthy Volunteers

Healthy volunteers are participants who do not have a disease or condition, or related conditions or symptoms

Study Type

An interventional clinical study is where participants are assigned to receive one or more interventions (or no intervention) so that researchers can evaluate the effects of the interventions on biomedical or health-related outcomes.

An observational clinical study is where participants identified as belonging to study groups are assessed for biomedical or health outcomes.

Searching Both is inclusive of interventional and observational studies.

Eligible Ages 18 Years - 50 Years
Gender Female
More Inclusion & Exclusion Criteria

Inclusion Criteria 1. Female 2. Age 18-50 years 3. English-literate 4. Willingness to provide informed consent 5. Meeting criteria for diagnosis of VBD based on: 1. self-report of 3 continuous months of insertional (entryway) dyspareunia, and/or pain to touch/tampon insertion 2. pain score of ≥ 3 on the tampon insertion test Exclusion Criteria 1. Use of daily topical lidocaine, or estradiol, or lidocaine/estradiol to the vulvar vestibule within the past three months 2. Use of nortriptyline or other TCA medications within the past three months 3. Use of pregabalin or gabapentin within the past three months 4. Presence of active dermatologic vulvar disease or vaginal infection 5. Untreated atrophic vaginitis (participants may undergo treatment and re-evaluation for enrollment if the condition is resolved) 6. Previous vestibulectomy 7. Pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant during the study period. Within the first six months of the postpartum period. Currently breastfeeding/lactating, or within three months of discontinuing breastfeeding/lactation. 8. Active incarceration 9. Cancer within the past year. 10. Chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment within the past year. 11. Unstable medical condition (e.g., renal impairment, significant hematological disease, cardiovascular disease, hepatic insufficiency, neurological disorder, autoimmune disease, or respiratory illness) 12. Clear inflammatory states (e.g., morbid obesity) 13. Use of immunosuppressant medications 14. History of intolerance to nortriptyline, topical lidocaine, or topical estradiol 15. Contraindications to use of nortriptyline: current use, or use within the past 3 months, of MAOIs, SSRIs, SNRIs, NDRIs; recent (within the past year) myocardial infarction, active psychotic or suicidal thoughts, narrow angle closure glaucoma 16. Contraindications to the use of lidocaine or local anesthetics 17. Contraindications to the use of topical estrogen therapy 18. Post-menopausal, defined as no menses for 12 consecutive months or surgical removal of both ovaries. (Hysterectomy is not an exclusion) 19. Have not had Botox of the pelvic floor muscles in the last 12 months, or pelvic nerve blocks in the last three months. 20. Are not currently enrolled or planning to enroll in another clinical trial during the course of this trial. 21. Are not currently receiving pelvic physical therapy

Trial Details

Trial ID:

This trial id was obtained from, a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, providing information on publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants with locations in all 50 States and in 196 countries.


Phase 1: Studies that emphasize safety and how the drug is metabolized and excreted in humans.

Phase 2: Studies that gather preliminary data on effectiveness (whether the drug works in people who have a certain disease or condition) and additional safety data.

Phase 3: Studies that gather more information about safety and effectiveness by studying different populations and different dosages and by using the drug in combination with other drugs.

Phase 4: Studies occurring after FDA has approved a drug for marketing, efficacy, or optimal use.

Phase 2
Lead Sponsor

The sponsor is the organization or person who oversees the clinical study and is responsible for analyzing the study data.

Duke University
Principal Investigator

The person who is responsible for the scientific and technical direction of the entire clinical study.

Andrea Nackley, PhD
Principal Investigator Affiliation Duke University
Agency Class

Category of organization(s) involved as sponsor (and collaborator) supporting the trial.

Overall Status Recruiting
Countries United States

The disease, disorder, syndrome, illness, or injury that is being studied.

Vestibulodynia, Temporomandibular Disorder, Fibromyalgia Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Migraines, Tension Headache, Endometriosis, Interstitial Cystitis, Back Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Study Website: View Trial Website
Additional Details

Vestibulodynia (VBD) is a chronic pelvic pain condition that affects 1 in 6 reproductive aged women, yet remains ineffectively treated by standard trial-and-error approaches. The investigators have identified two distinct VBD subtypes that may benefit from different types of treatment: 1) VBD peripheral (VBD-p) subtype characterized by localized pain specific to the vulvar vestibule, and 2) VBD central (VBD-c) subtype characterized by pain at both vaginal and remote body regions. Preliminary data further demonstrate that VBD-p and VBD-c subtypes differ with respect to patient reported outcomes (e.g., physical and mental health), production of cytokines (intracellular proteins that regulate the activity of pain nerves and inflammatory processes), and expression of microRNAs (small non-coding RNA molecules that regulate gene expression). Women with VBD-p exhibit normal psychological profiles; balanced circulating pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines; and dysregulation in microRNAs that regulate the expression of genes in estrogen pathways. In contrast, women with VBD-c report decreased functional status and increased somatization; increased pro-inflammatory but not anti-inflammatory cytokines; and dysregulation in microRNAs that regulate the expression of genes relevant to muscle, nerve, and immune cell function. Based on these data, the investigators hypothesize that two VBD-p and VBD-c subtypes will preferentially respond to peripheral, central, or combined treatments and can be distinguished by cytokine and microRNA profiles. These hypotheses will be tested in a phase III clinical trial that evaluates diverse treatment strategies in women with VBD-p and VBD-c. Participants will be randomly assigned to one of four parallel arms: peripheral treatment with 5% lidocaine + 0.5 mg/ml 0.02% estradiol compound cream, 2) central treatment with the tricyclic antidepressant nortriptyline, 3) combined peripheral and central treatments, or 4) placebo. The treatment phase will last 4 months (with a 6-week titration at treatment initiation and 2-week taper period at 4 months), with outcome measures and biomarkers assessed at 4 time points (0, 2, 4, and 6 months). First, the investigators will compare the efficacy of treatments in alleviating pain among women with VBD-p and VBD-c using standardized tampon insertion with a numeric rating scale and self-reported pain on the McGill Pain Questionnaire. Next, the investigators will compare the efficacy of treatments in improving perceived physical, mental, and sexual health among women with VBD-p and VBD-c using standardized questionnaires. Finally, investigators will measure cytokines and microRNAs in women with VBD-p versus VBD-c using multiplex assays and RNA sequencing, and determine the ability of these biomarkers to predict treatment response. Successful completion of the proposed work will provide new insights into the mechanisms that drive pain perception and treatment response in two distinct VBD subtypes, and determine the efficacy of peripheral, central, and combined therapies in reversing this pain. Such findings will readily translate to improved patient care, permitting the millions of women with VBD, their partners, and clinicians to make more informed decisions about pain management.

Arms & Interventions


Active Comparator: peripheral treatment

5% lidocaine/5 mg/ml 0.02% estradiol compound cream

Active Comparator: central treatment

tricyclic antidepressant nortriptyline pill

Active Comparator: combined peripheral and central treatments

5% lidocaine/5 mg/ml 0.02% estradiol compound cream and tricyclic antidepressant nortriptyline pill

Placebo Comparator: placebo

placebo cream and placebo pill


Drug: - 5% lidocaine/5 mg/ml 0.02% estradiol compound cream

Lidocaine/estradiol cream targets peripheral nerves and tissues affected in VBD. Participants will be provided with a diagram and written instructions, detailing how to apply the cream to the vaginal vestibule daily for weeks 1-16. Treatment with lidocaine/estradiol or placebo cream will be terminated at week 16 (end of month 4).

Drug: - Nortriptyline

Nortriptyline is a centrally-acting tricyclic antidepressant that is FDA-approved for treatment of neuropathic pain. Dosing will begin with one 10 mg pill nightly for week 1, then two 10 mg pills nightly for week 2, three 10 mg pills nightly for week 3, four 10 mg pills nightly for week 4, and five for weeks 5 -16. Treatment with nortriptyline or placebo pill will be tapered off over weeks 16-18, decreasing the dose by 10 mg every 4 days. Participants will be provided with a list of drugs to avoid that are known to interact with nortriptyline.

Drug: - Placebo cream

The comparison treatment will be an identical-appearing placebo Moisturelâ„¢ cream

Drug: - Placebo pill

The comparison treatment will be an identical-appearing placebo pill

Contact a Trial Team

If you are interested in learning more about this trial, find the trial site nearest to your location and contact the site coordinator via email or phone. We also strongly recommend that you consult with your healthcare provider about the trials that may interest you and refer to our terms of service below.

University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California




University of California, Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California, 90095

Site Contact

Andrea Rapkin, MD

[email protected]


Chapel Hill, North Carolina




University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 27278

Site Contact

Erin Carey, MD, MSCR

[email protected]