Estrogen is a natural hormone in the female body. As we age, we all experience a gradual loss of estrogen and the rate at which we lose estrogen increases as we reach our menopause years. One of the roles that estrogen plays in our bodies is to help maintain the integrity of our muscular and connective tissue. Lower estrogen levels can have the most dramatic effect on those tissues that have a higher concentration of estrogen receptors. Among other places in our body, estrogen receptors can be found within our vaginal tissue, our urethra, and our bladder.
So, as we age, and we have less available estrogen in our bodies, we often see a thinning and weakening of these tissues that is labeled urogenital atrophy within the medical community. In our everyday world, we may not recognize the thinning and weakening of our vaginal and urinary tissues, but we do recognize the symptoms that can include incontinence, prolapse, vaginal dryness, itching, burning, and greater incidence of UTIs.
For years it was recommended that women take oral estrogen pills to replace the estrogen loss throughout their bodies. But it was hard to regulate where the oral estrogen was absorbed and serious side effects were found including increased cancer risk, stroke, and formation of blood clots. It is important to note that topical estrogen cream has been used successfully by women by applying the cream directly to the walls of the vagina and urethral tissue.
This direct application to tissue with estrogen receptors has been shown to increase tissue integrity and strength, often reducing the symptoms of urogenital atrophy, without the significant risk of serious side effects.
The Mayoclinic reports that the risks of serious adverse effects are unlikely due to the lower dose of estrogen within the topical creams and the direct application to the target tissues.
This form of estrogen replacement therapy results in less estrogen circulating throughout our bodies, therefore reducing many of the associated risks.
Topical estrogen cream has been discussed in this entry as a treatment option for incontinence. It is recommended that you discuss all treatment options for incontinence with your doctor.
You will need a prescription for estrogen cream and should be aware of the side effects that can be associated with use of topical estrogen cream. They may include breast tenderness, vaginal bleeding, headache, nausea, and bloating.
Tasha Mulligan MPT, ATC, CSCS
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