After the menopause, women may experience some vaginal or genital dryness. Often they don’t talk to their doctor about it and suffer in silence, but there are some effective treatments on the market, either from your doctor or from the chemist.
What causes vaginal dryness?
During a woman’s life, the ovaries produce the hormone oestrogen/estrogen which has a number of functions in the body – fertility and reproduction, reduces bone decay, helps balance cholesterol levels and plays a role in fat metabolism among a long list of jobs.
It also keeps the skin and tissues around the vagina supple and moisturised by encouraging fluids and mucus to be made by the glands at the neck of the womb.
It also causes the tissues in and around the vagina to stay thick and elastic and encourages ‘good’ bacteria which help prevent infection in the vagina.
When the ovaries (the estrogen ‘factories’) are surgically removed or when the levels of estrogen start to fall naturally at the menopause, all the effects of estrogen are removed and this gives the symptoms of the menopause. This includes thinning of the tissues (called atrophy – say ‘at-roffy’ -) and vaginal dryness. Atrophic vaginitis is the medical term.
Symptoms of vaginal dryness.
Many women have no symptoms at all, or none that really bother them. Others find life increasingly uncomfortable in the genital area, making intimate relations with their partners, sitting for long periods and even walking very unpleasant. Their self esteem can be affected by this very intimate problem.
There may be some vaginal itching, irritation, soreness or vaginal pain as a result of vaginal dryness, some women describing it as a sensation similar to having dry, cracked skin on your hands in the winter.
Treatment for vaginal dryness.
There are many treatments that you can buy at the chemist that may improve the symptoms you have by providing moisture.
- These are often the moisture gels or lubricants used during sexual intercourse, brands such as Sliquid, Durex Play, K-Y Jelly, ID Glide, WET and Astroglide.
- SYLK is another brand of personal lubricant. It’s aimed at women in the menopause experiencing vaginal dryness and it is paraben free.
If these over-the-counter treatments aren’t successful, you can talk to your doctor about topical estrogen treatment for vaginal dryness.
There is another reason to talk to the doctor and that is to exclude any other cause for the vaginal irritation you’re experiencing. Any itching could be a sign of vaginal yeast infection and any vaginal pain should be reported to the doctor to rule out any more serious conditions.
- Vaginal estrogen is used to treat menopausal dryness, vaginal burning and itching. It comes in the form of a cream, tablet or a ring and some brands are designed to treat menopausal hot flushes/hot flashes – Femring is one such brand.
- The ring formulation is a flexible ring that’s inserted into the vagina and left in place for 3 months before it is replaced if you still need treatment.
- Vaginal tablets are inserted once a day for the first 2 weeks of treatment and thereafter, twice a week.
- A vaginal cream such as Estrace is applied once a day for 2-4 weeks and then 1-3 times a week.
Use these daily treatments at about the same time of day. Read the instructions carefully and use them exactly as directed to make sure you’re getting the most out of the drug.
Side effects of vaginal dryness treatment.
There are few side effects of topical estrogen but if you experience any of the following that are severe or do not go away, you must talk to your doctor:
- breast pain or tenderness
- difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- changes in sexual desire
- hair loss
- unwanted hair growth
- spotty darkening of the skin on the face
- sudden feelings of heat or sweating
- difficulty wearing contact lenses
- leg cramps
- swelling, redness, burning, itching, or irritation of the vagina
- vaginal discharge
- painful or difficult urination
- back pain
- cold symptoms
- flu symptoms
If you have a history of hormone-sensitive cancer (such as some breast cancers) you must talk to your doctor about your suitability for topical estrogen.
For information on all your intimate health issues see www.intimatehealthhelp.net.