Although it is not as easy to talk about as hot flashes or night sweats, vaginal dryness is a very common issue faced by women during menopause. About 50% of postmenopausal women have symptoms of vaginal discomfort within 3 years of menopause that affect sexuality and quality of life, yet only a minority seek medical attention, despite the availability of various management options.
Bothersome vaginal symptoms are common in women of all ages but increase with menopause. The decrease in estrogen with menopause is a major contributor to vaginal dryness, itching, burning, discomfort, and pain during intercourse (also known as dyspareunia) or other sexual activity.
Vaginal atrophy is the medical term that describes these changes, and when combined with bladder symptoms after menopause, it is called genitourinary syndrome of menopause. Symptoms of vaginal atrophy may significantly affect your quality of life, sexual satisfaction, and relationship with your partner.
Menopause-related vaginal symptoms may be bothersome early in the menopause transition or may start after several years of decreased estrogen levels. Unlike hot flashes, which generally improve with time, vaginal symptoms typically worsen with time due to both aging and a prolonged lack of estrogen.
During menopause, the body undergoes physiological changes due to estrogen loss. The vulva loses its collagen and fat tissue and the vulvar tissue loses its ability to retain water, becoming thin, fragile and less elastic. The natural lubrication a women’s body produces is reduced and the production of fluid is delayed during sexual stimulation. The thinning of the tissue and lack of natural lubrication can result in a woman experiencing dryness, bleeding and/or pain during sexual activity.
The most commonly reported sexual problems in mid-life women are loss of libido and dyspareunia (painful intercourse). Women with symptoms of vaginal discomfort experience a decreased quality of life, and almost one-third of women with vaginal dryness have lost interest in sex. Vaginal dryness and associated discomfort can severely impede a woman’s sexual desire and ability to become aroused, can cause emotional distress, and may impact her emotional intimacy and self-image.
* Provided by the North American Menopause Society, MenoNote: Vaginal Dryness, 2014 http://www.menopause.org/docs/for-women/mndryness.pdf
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