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Beyond discomfort: vaginal dryness as a serious health concern

Vaginal dryness during menopause: a common and often overlooked issue. Many women endure the discomfort, believing it’s their new normal. But our understanding has evolved. It’s not harmless. This condition poses serious health risks that can be prevented. This article delves into its causes, consequences, and treatments to shed light on this crucial topic.

Beyond discomfort: vaginal dryness as a serious health concern

Vaginal dryness during menopause is primarily caused by hormonal changes. As a woman’s ovaries reduce the production of estrogen, the hormone responsible for maintaining vaginal lubrication, the vaginal tissues become thinner, less elastic, and produce less mucus. This results in symptoms like dryness, itching, burning, and discomfort during intercourse. These physical symptoms can lead to emotional distress and negatively affect sexual health, but with time, they can cause more sequences.

“Vaginal dryness is killing women”, — says Dr Rachel Rubin, a board-certified urologist. Is it really the truth, and how itching can become so dangerous?

Vaginal dryness or genitourinary syndrome of menopause?

Vaginal dryness is like the tip of an iceberg, and it doesn’t show up alone. It’s a key part of a bigger picture called “genitourinary syndrome of menopause,” or GSM. In 2014, the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health introduced this term, emphasizing that these changes affect multiple areas, not just the vagina. The list includes the labia majora/minora, clitoris, vestibule/introitus, vagina, urethra, and bladder.

When estrogen levels drop, it’s not just our vagina that loses its hormone receptors. The bladder and urethra are affected too, leading to a range of symptoms. It’s not just about vaginal dryness; it’s a broader issue that impacts multiple parts of our body.

The many faces of GSM symptoms

So, Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM) includes both sexual and urinary symptoms, and it can significantly affect a woman’s life. Sexual symptoms encompass issues like vaginal dryness, pain during sex, and decreased sexual satisfaction. This can make sexual intercourse painful and uncomfortable, leading to reduced desire and strained relationships. These symptoms often cause emotional distress, including anxiety and depression, affecting a woman’s self-esteem and body image.

But it doesn’t stop there. Genital and urinary symptoms worsen too, resulting in itching, burning, irritation, and discomfort. The risk of what doctors call ‘urinary incontinence,’ those unexpected leaks, also increases. The problem is that while some menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes, are temporary and can be endured, GSM only gets worse if left unaddressed.

However, there’s another dangerous consequence of urogenital syndrome.

When GSM puts you at risk: the truth about recurrent urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are quite common at this stage of life. Strangely, we tend to associate “below the belt” infections more with our wild college days rather than our mature years. However, disruptions in natural lubrication, weakened local immunity, and other “perks” of the GSM make women more vulnerable to even relatively harmless microorganisms, which they used to fend off easily.

Here’s something you might not be aware of: recurrent UTIs are a significant issue for women. They account for a staggering 7 million doctor visits and hospitalizations every year, making up 25% of all infections in older individuals. These infections deplete the body’s immune defenses, lead to chronic inflammation, and seriously undermine overall health.

This is why when a urologist mentions that GSM could even pose a threat to your life, it’s not an exaggeration. It’s a stark reality we should take seriously.

Navigating GSM: your guide to relief

The good news is, that there are several strategies to conquer Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM):

Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT): BHRT involves using bioidentical medications containing estrogen. These can effectively combat vaginal dryness and other GSM symptoms. You can take them in pill form for a broader impact or apply them directly to the affected area for a localized effect.

Vaginal Estrogen Therapy: This involves using vaginal estrogen in the form of creams, tablets, or rings. It provides relief directly to the vaginal region without affecting the entire body like oral BHRT might.

Lifestyle Changes: Simple adjustments in your daily life can also make a difference. Staying well-hydrated, maintaining a nutritious diet, avoiding irritants, and doing regular Kegel exercises can all contribute to better vaginal health during menopause. Plus, Kegel exercises can significantly improve those pesky leakage issues. It’s all about taking control of your health and well-being.

So, menopausal vaginal dryness is more than just a nuisance; it is a serious health concern with far-reaching implications for women’s physical and emotional well-being. While it is a common symptom of menopause, it should not be dismissed or ignored. Women experiencing these symptoms should reach out to healthcare professionals for guidance on suitable treatments and lifestyle adjustments.