During the menopause, a woman’s hormone levels will significantly drop, which can cause a range of symptoms that are often out of our control.
The type and severity of menopausal symptoms will vary from woman to woman, with some experiencing particularly uncomfortable or bothersome problems.
One common symptom that many women face is that of vaginal dryness, which can occur as a result of menopause and may seriously affect quality of life. Here, we discuss what causes this condition, and the ways in which the symptoms can be alleviated.
What causes vaginal dryness?
Vaginal dryness, also known as vaginal atrophy, is a condition which results in the drying, thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls as a result of a reduced production of oestrogen and, therefore, a lack of vaginal moisture. Symptoms include dryness, itching and redness of the vagina, as well as discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse.
There are several possible causes of vaginal dryness, including hormonal changes during pregnancy, medication, stress, cancer treatments and underlying health conditions like Sjogren’s syndrome. But, by far the most common cause is the menopause, particularly during the post-menopausal years. However, some women will also experience vaginal dryness in the years leading up to the menopause (the perimenopause).
What methods exist to reduce the symptoms?
For many women, vaginal dryness can seriously affect their day-to-day life. In such cases, it is important to seek advice from a GP, who will be able to carry out a professional diagnosis after a quick, painless vaginal examination.
Thankfully, there are several different treatment options out there which can help minimise the discomfort or pain associated with vaginal atrophy. The type of method that is right for each person will depend upon a range of personal aspects, such as the severity of their symptoms, the patient’s age and other lifestyle factors.
Moisturisers and lubricants
Over-the-counter options like vaginal moisturisers can help provide a quick relief from the uncomfortable symptoms of mild vaginal dryness, with the aim of restoring some of the vagina’s lost moisture. For best results, applying the moisturiser 2-3 times daily should provide satisfactory, temporary relief.
Likewise, water-based lubricants can also be applied to ease discomfort or pain when having sex. Here, products which contain glycerine should be avoided, since they have been known to increase irritation and burning. Petroleum jelly is also best avoided, particularly when using latex condoms, since it can cause the material to break down.
These self-medication methods are best recommended for those whose symptoms are less severe and do not require medical intervention.
For those patients who are experiencing vaginal atrophy as a direct result of menopause, a doctor may prescribe them with vaginal oestrogen in order to replace the oestrogen which has been lost. This is the most effective way to treat the symptoms of vaginal dryness in post-menopausal women.
Topical oestrogen can be prescribed in several different forms, depending on the patient. The most common methods include; vaginal pessaries (the placing of pills inside the vagina), vaginal rings, or vaginal creams. The GP will be there to discuss the right method for the patient, based on their body, lifestyle and what they will find most comfortable.
In general, all of these treatments work in the same way and are just as good as each other at relieving vaginal atrophy symptoms. It normally takes a few weeks to notice any positive changes and most women will find better relief when using it in combination with a suitable vaginal moisturiser or lubricant.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Those who suffer from the more extreme symptoms of menopause, which may include hot flushes and night sweats, might be prescribed HRT. This treatment works to replace the lost hormones in the body and can be taken in several ways, including patches, gels, tables and implants. Not all of these will be effective nor right for a patient, so HRT is often about trial and error.
HRT tends to have a stronger physical effect than the more conservative treatments, which also means there may be some side effects. It is important to discuss these with your GP in order to determine if this is a suitable treatment for you.
Modern laser treatments
Recent technological developments mean there are now modern ways to help alleviate the symptoms of vaginal atrophy. The MonaLisa Touch, for instance, uses laser therapy to rejuvenate the vaginal tissue and helps to stimulate the collagen which has been lost after menopause.
This treatment certainly does not come cheap, but it is also highly effective, pain-free and has quick results, making it an attractive option for those experiencing severe vaginal atrophy symptoms.