Menopause can come with a host of unpleasant symptoms, some of which are more manageable than others. Whether you’re already living it or you’re approaching it, you may find some relief in knowing how to navigate the most common side effects. Here, we discuss how your vaginal health in particular may change, and what can help.
How Does Menopause Affect Vaginal Health?
As you enter and go through menopause, your hormone levels shift, which can result in noticeable physical changes for your vaginal area. The natural reduction in your estrogen levels can cause tissue in your vulva and vaginal lining to become drier, thinner, and less flexible. Your normal vaginal secretions are also reduced, decreasing your natural lubrication.
When you’re in your “childbearing years,” your naturally higher estrogen levels enable flexibility in your vaginal tissue for intercourse and childbirth. But during and after menopause, this fragile tissue becomes more susceptible to injury and irritation. Many women avoid sexual intercourse altogether as a result — though it doesn’t have to be this way if you don’t want it to be.
Beyond these vaginal symptoms, the natural change in your body’s chemistry during menopause may also potentially lead to more yeast or urinary tract infections.
Vaginal Symptoms of Menopause
This thinning and drying effect caused by the reduction of estrogen has been discouragingly labeled “vaginal atrophy” in past parlance. Fortunately, in 2014 it gained a newer descriptor: genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), in order to more thoroughly encompass the range of vaginal symptoms you may begin to notice as menopause approaches. These can include:
- Pain during sex
- Changes in vaginal discharge
- Burning or itching in the vagina
- Lack of lubrication
- Gray or thin pubic hair
- Spotting or bleeding, usually after sex
- Itching in or around your vulva
- Loss of libido
- Painful or burning sensations during urination
- Urinary incontinence
- Urinating more frequently
- Blood in your urine
- Frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Do note that typically, UTIs require antibiotics to treat. Even if they’re a result of GSM, the first order of business will be to address the UTI with your doctor and prevent any related complications.
How to Control Vaginal Menopause Symptoms
While changes to your vagina may be an inevitable aspect of menopause, living with uncomfortable symptoms isn’t required. There are several options available to address vaginal dryness and pain during sex, including:
- Over-the-counter products, such as moisturizers and lubricants. While vaginal moisturizers are applied every several days to keep the vaginal tissue healthy, lubricants can be used during sex to prevent discomfort.
- Prescription estrogen therapy. Low-dose vaginal estrogen tablets, creams, and rings are available to help control vaginal dryness and its symptoms if over-the-counter products fall short.
- Other medications. Treatments such as ospemifene can alleviate pain during intercourse. This selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) is taken as a pill. Prescription vaginal suppositories such as those containing DHEA may also be used to prevent pain during sex.
As a final thought, though we understand that hot flashes, changes in your libido, and possible shifts in your body image before or during menopause may reduce your desire for desire, a small ten year study has indicated that weekly sex reduced menopausal symptoms in 28% of participants.
No matter what you’re experiencing — in your vagina or anywhere else — if your menopause symptoms are interfering with your quality of life, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our providers offer personalized gynecological care to address a wide range of women’s health concerns, including the emotional and hormonal changes that come with menopause. To schedule a visit, request an appointment online or by calling 770-487-9604.