Hot flashes. Mood swings. Weight gain. They are all common symptoms of menopause that you probably feel pretty comfortable bringing up with your doctor.
Vaginal dryness, on the other hand, can be both uncomfortable to live with and uncomfortable to talk about. Even though roughly 40-50 percent of women experience vaginal dryness, many women are reluctant to mention it to their doctors.
What causes dryness
The most common cause of vaginal dryness in post-menopausal women is the loss of estrogen associated with menopause. This leads to a condition called vaginal atrophy, which main symptoms are dryness and itching. It can also cause the frequency and urgency of urination, as well as an increase in urinary tract infections.
One big problem with not treating vaginal atrophy and its resulting dryness is the pain and difficulty it can bring to sex. It can reach a point where it is always noticeable and you’re never able to get comfortable.
While vaginal atrophy is most often the cause of vaginal dryness, other conditions can cause dryness as well. That’s why it’s important to discuss dryness with a medical professional early on rather than assuming that menopause is the underlying cause.
Getting back to normal
The good news is that vaginal dryness responds well to a number of treatment options.
Here are the most common treatments your doctor may suggest:
Over-the-counter lubricants. This is the first line of defense when dryness interferes with sexual intercourse. Lack of lubrication can also be caused by lack of arousal, and something as simple as more foreplay can help with this issue.
Over-the-counter moisturizers. A lot of people confuse moisturizers with lubricants. Unlike lubricants, moisturizers can be used daily or several times a week to help the vaginal tissue maintain moisture.
Minimally absorbed vaginal estrogens. Although very little of the estrogen is actually absorbed into the bloodstream, these treatments are highly effective in not only combating symptoms but in rebuilding the cells and restoring some of the vagina’s elasticity. Prescription estrogen medications come in creams or tablets that are inserted into the vagina with an applicator, or as a ring that is left in for three months at a time.
Oral estrogen therapy used to treat other menopause symptoms such as hot flashes can also help ease vaginal dryness. However, oral dosage levels tend to be much lower now than in the past, so you may need to use a specific treatment just for atrophy even if you’re already taking an oral estrogen.