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Efficacy of in-office lysis of clitoral adhesions with excision of keratin pearls on clitoral pain and sexual function: a pre-post interventional study.

BACKGROUND: Keratin pearls are foci of central keratinization within concentric layers of squamous cells that can form under the clitoral prepuce and cause pain (clitorodynia); in-office removal of keratin pearls may reduce clitoral pain and improve sexual function.

AIM: This study aims to investigate clitoral pain and sexual function in women with partial clitoral phimosis and keratin pearls before and after in-office lysis of clitoral adhesions with keratin pearl excision (LCA-KPE).

METHODS: A pre-post interventional study evaluated patients who underwent LCA-KPE between January 2017 and February 2023 in 2 metropolitan gynecology clinics specializing in vulvar pain. Patients presenting with keratin pearls and partial clitoral phimosis identified through retrospective chart review were asked to complete postprocedure questionnaires and provide subjective responses on clitoral discomfort, sexual function, sexual distress, and their experience with in-office LCA-KPE. Bivariate analyses with paired t tests were conducted to determine the effect of LCA-KPE. Qualitative data were analyzed with thematic coding.

OUTCOMES: An 11-point pain visual analog scale was utilized to determine pre- and postprocedure clitoral discomfort and difficulty with orgasm. Female sexual dysfunction was measured with the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) and Female Sexual Distress Scale-Revised.

RESULTS: A total of 32 of 74 patients who met inclusion criteria completed postprocedure surveys (43% response rate). Mean clitoral pain for respondents was 6.91 at baseline and 2.50 after LCA-KPE (P < .001). Mean difficulty with orgasm was significantly decreased from 5.45 at baseline to 3.13 after LCA-KPE (P < .001). Participants had a mean FSFI total score of 17.68 after treatment compared with a mean total baseline FSFI of 12.12 (P = .017). The mean FSFI score for pain was 2.43 at follow-up compared with 1.37 at baseline (P = .049). There was no significant difference in the mean Female Sexual Distress Scale-Revised score before vs after the procedure (P = .27). Qualitative themes described the procedure as painful but worthwhile, with 77% of participants reporting the overall experience as positive. Recurrence rate overall was 28%, with a median of 2 repeat procedures.

CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: Recognizing keratin pearls as a structural cause of clitoral pain and offering in-office treatment is an important tool in addressing clitorodynia and improving sexual function.

STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS: This is the largest study to date documenting the occurrence, identifying associated pain conditions, and evaluating procedural outcomes for clitoral keratin pearls. This study was limited by a relatively small sample size.

CONCLUSION: In-office LCA-KPE significantly reduced clitoral discomfort and difficulty with orgasm.

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