An uncomfortable problem often suffered in silence
Menopause Vaginal atrophy is a common condition affecting menopausal women. But the women who seek medical help only represent the tip of the iceberg.
Most UK gynaecologists and GPs know that nearly every menopausal and post-menopausal woman will suffer with vaginal atrophy, according to Eddie Morris, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist in Norwich and Chair of the British Menopause Society.
“Women who seek help represent only a tiny proportion of those affected. Many women suffering with vaginal atrophy are greatly neglected.”
Dr Heather Currie, associate specialist gynaecologist and obstetrician, who provides information to 5,000 visitors daily on her Menopause Matters website agrees that vaginal atrophy is a serious problem during and after menopause and can increase in severity as a woman gets older.
She says: “Women chat about vaginal atrophy on the Menopause Matters forums because it’s anonymous and private. And in online surveys over half of the women noted symptoms and yet very few had gone to the doctor about it. Women say that symptoms affect their confidence and self-esteem.”
Morris adds: “There is scientific evidence that women in the UK and worldwide are highly distressed by the condition. Vaginal and vulval pain not only puts women off sex but can also add to complex emotions around femininity. This can be very upsetting.”
Morris explains: “The hormone oestrogen makes the vagina stretchy with a thick, well-lubricated lining and a rich blood and nerve supply that causes sensations during sex. Hormones also help the bladder to fight infection. After menopause when oestrogen levels fall, the vagina gradually becomes less stretchy, less lubricated with less pleasurable (and sometimes painful) sensations during intercourse.
“Extreme dryness, known as vaginal atrophy, creates constant discomfort. Some women also contract bladder infections and bladder irritability, needing to pass urine more frequently and urgently.
Finding a solution
“Many women suffer in silence because it’s an intimate problem and hard to talk about. The British Menopause Society encourages doctors and nurses to raise these issues in a reassuring way to help women feel more relaxed about talking about sex and the bladder.
“Vaginal and vulval pain not only puts women off sex but can also add to complex emotions around femininity”
“There are different types of lubrication available. Natural-based lubricants do not contain hormones and can be used in the long-term.
“Most women get relief from a prescribed vaginal oestrogen preparation. Vaginal oestrogen creams, tablets and pessaries have been around for many years.”
Dr Currie says: “Because vaginal atrophy is due to oestrogen deficiency, oestrogen treatments are most likely to correct the underlying cause. Non-oestrogen lubricants, available over the counter, help the dryness and discomfort.”