Recently I have had two very enlightening conversations. First of all, in my conversation with Dr. Tara Allmen about her new CD, “Menopause in an Hour,” she stated that all women need to start thinking about the health of their vagina as they enter menopause. A couple of weeks later, I was at happy hour with several girlfriends who are in various stages of “the change”. One woman expressed how painful it became to have sex once she reached menopause.
Vaginal dryness is caused by the loss of estrogen that women experience as they enter menopause. “Estrogen…helps keep vaginal tissue healthy by maintaining a normal vaginal lubrication, tissue elasticity and acidity,” the Mayo Clinic reports. “These factors create a natural defense against vaginal and urinary tract infections.” But the potential issues with vaginal health don’t end with dryness. “Over time, vaginal dryness can turn into vaginal atrophy, which means that the vaginal walls become pale, thin, narrow and lose elasticity,” Dr. Allmen said, adding that even women who aren’t sexually active need to be concerned because of pelvic examinations.
Vaginal dryness may take a while to develop, so women may not realize that they have this issue until they are well into menopause. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of vaginal dryness include itching and stinging around the vaginal opening and in the lower third of the vagina. Symptoms also can include burning, pain or light bleeding with sex, and urinary frequency or urgency. “As many as four in 10 women who have reached menopause experience signs and symptoms related to vaginal dryness,” the website said.
What can women do to ease the dryness? Dr. Allmen suggests trying some non-prescription solutions, including vaginal moisturizers, water soluble vaginal lubricants, application of vitamin E oil or olive oil, and regular sex and/or vaginal stimulation. The Mayo Clinic website also noted that women should avoid using vinegar, yogurt, douches, hand lotions, soaps and bubble baths to relieve discomfort since they may irritate the vagina.
Women should make an appointment to see their doctor if they have vaginal burning, itching, soreness, or painful sexual intercourse that doesn’t improve by using a vaginal moisturizer or water-based lubricant, according to the Mayo Clinic. The doctor also can prescribe vaginal estrogen therapy. “In general, treating vaginal dryness is more effective with topical (vaginal) estrogen rather than oral estrogen,” the Mayo Clinic website reports. “Estrogen applied to the vagina can still result in estrogen reaching your blood stream, but the amount is minimal.” This type of therapy is available through a vaginal estrogen cream, a vaginal estrogen ring, and a vaginal estrogen tablet. “If vaginal dryness is associated with other symptoms of menopause, such as moderate or severe hot flashes, your doctor may suggest estrogen pills, patches, gel or a higher dose estrogen ring along with a progestin,” the Mayo Clinic website stated.
During middle-age, women are often focused on taking care of their skin and managing their weight. Now we can add taking care of our vagina as a critical “to-do” item on our own self-care plan.