Vaginal Dryness and MenopauseOne of the most common menopause symptoms is vaginal dryness. It often occurs quickly and without warning in perimenopausal, menopausal, and postmenopausal women. It affects more than 80% of women just entering menopause and continues to affect up to 50% of those completing menopause. If you haven't experienced it, menopausal vaginal dryness may seem like a minor annoyance, but in reality it can be quite devastating. Vaginal dryness can ruin sexual intercourse for some menopausal women and leave behind feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Fortunately, effective treatments are now available for menopausal women who experience this symptom.
Vaginal Dryness in Menopausal Women
Also called vaginal atrophy, vaginal dryness can affect women of all ages but it particularly affects women between the ages of 40 and 65. Your vagina is kept moist by mucus membranes that are located at the mouth of your uterus. Estrogen in your body aids these membranes in producing lubrication that helps to keep the vagina moist, supple, and strong. The lubricant also has a slight acidity level, which helps to protect your vagina from foreign bacteria, keeping it free from infection.
Estrogen is the key to maintaining vaginal health and elasticity. As estrogen levels decrease during female menopause, the mucous membranes (vaginal epithelium) near your uterus produce less mucous. As a result, the vagina becomes very dry and thin. The walls of your vagina will become weaker and more sensitive. Acid levels also begin to decline, leaving you open to invading microorganisms, which can cause yeast infections and urinary tract infections. As your estrogen levels decline, less blood will circulate to the tissues in the pelvis, causing your vagina to thin and sag. Your vulva and vagina will probably begin to look different than it did before. Tissue and fat around the vagina will begin to disappear.
Symptoms of Vaginal Dryness
The most common symptoms of vaginal dryness are itching and painful sexual intercourse. Without its natural mucus, the vagina becomes very dry and fragile and cannot handle rough penetration. Forceful penetration may rip or tear the vaginal walls. You may have been wondering why you are experiencing vaginal bleeding after menopause. Spotting or bleeding can occur after sex if the vagina is too dry. A lot of women cannot stand to have sex at all, because the painful intercourse in menopause is simply not enjoyable.
Menopause itching due to dryness can also become painful and annoying. Incontinence also often occurs with vaginal dryness. As estrogen levels decrease, the walls of your vagina become increasingly weak, and are unable to prevent urine from escaping. Women with vaginal dryness are also at increased risk for developing vaginal infections like yeast infections, which are characterized by a thick, odorous discharge.
Treating Vaginal Dryness
Relieving vaginal dryness is possible. There are a variety of treatments are available to women suffering from vaginal dryness. Your doctor will probably recommend that you try to have sex as much as possible. This may seem strange, but sexual intercourse will help stimulate the mucus glands at the base of the uterus, making your vagina moist. Women who refrain from sex often find that their dryness becomes even worse.
Some tried and tested menopause remedies include using lubricants, which can help sexual intercourse be less painful and more enjoyable. These can be applied up to two hours before sex. Over the counter moisturizers can provide relief from dryness for up to 24 hours.
For persistent vaginal dryness estrogen therapy is recommended. Oral, topical, transdermal, and tablet forms are available by prescription from your doctor.