The symptoms of vaginal atrophy in postmenopausal women most commonly include dryness (the sensation of dryness unrelated to sexual activity), and dyspareunia (difficult or painful sexual intercourse). The relative proportion of these two symptoms appears to vary. Reported differences in the relative prevalence of dryness vs. dyspareunia may have more to do with the frequency and type of sexual activity in the women surveyed than the prevalence of the symptom per se.
Other symptoms include vaginal itching, discharge, pain unrelated to sexual activity, bleeding, and increased susceptibility to both vaginal and urinary tract infections. Severe narrowing, shortening and ultimately the complete obliteration of the vaginal vault can occur. When such anatomic changes result sexual intercourse becomes impossible. Even in milder cases, dyspareunia and reduced vaginal lubrication during sexual arousal commonly result in deterioration of a patient’s sexual quality of life, with aggravation and intensification of preexisting disorders of female sexual response.
Collectively, these physiologic changes and associated symptoms can impact all stages of the sexual response cycle, including desire, arousal, and/or orgasm. Overall sexual satisfaction is diminished. It is well documented that such effects not only impact the postmenopausal woman, but also interfere with her intimate partner relationships. And unlike other menopausal symptoms which are usually temporary an eventually cease even without treatment, the problems associated with VVA usually increase with age in the absence of treatment.
Despite the prevalence of vulvovaginal atrophy and its associated symptoms, few women suffering from them report their problem/symptoms to their physicians or other healthcare professionals. Only 20 – 25% of affected women seek treatment. Despite the adverse impact of the vulvar, vaginal, and urinary tract symptoms on their quality of life, postmenopausal woman appear to silently and stoically accept their symptoms and the associated health problems as a natural and unavoidable part of the aging process. Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals are often complicit in this, as they do not sufficiently query patients about their symptoms or inform them about the nature of the disease state.
The good news is that there exist many therapeutic options for the treatment of these symptoms, and not all of them hormonal. If your current healthcare professional seems disinterested in improving the quality of your life in this area, seek out one who does. There simply is no need to suffer in silence.
Vulvovaginal Atrophy – Are You Suffering in Silence?
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