Photograph of older couple cuddling in bed

Photograph of older couple cuddling in bed

How many times have you shuddered the moment someone mentions your parents or your grandparents having sex?

As a doctor specializing in sexual health, I’ve seen that inevitable gasp time and time again.  The mere mention of our parents, or worse, our grandparents, “rolling around in the hay” leads to grimaces followed by an expression of “really!?” “yuck” or “gross”. This reaction is natural in our often times sex-phobic, even puritanical culture, but these attitudes set too many people up for failure. A fear of aging and an inability to associate sex with aging undermines the many health benefits gained simply by continuing sexual activity through our 70s and beyond. These health benefits are often overlooked by healthcare practitioners as well. A recent NYT Magazine article, “The Joys (and Challenges) of Sex After 70” attempts to normalize sex in older adults.

Here are 5 important points we wanted to highlight for you:

  1. People frequently have sex up until the end of their life.
  2. Everything about sex after 70 usually takes longer, is slower, but generally still works.
  3. Sex is so much more than penetration. Too often we are taught that sex is only penis-in-vagina (PIV), but that’s incredibly limited. If PIV is your definition of sex, that may need to change as you age.
  4.  Communication is one of the most critical components when it comes to good sex, especially since pleasure and desire change as we age.
  5. There are effective medications and non-medical treatments for sexual problems related to aging, regardless of your sex or gender.

As men age there are plenty of medications approved to increase their sexual health—we’re sure you’ve heard of Viagra or Cialis? And there are many other brands designed to do the same thing, plus no fewer than 25 different testosterone formulations for men.

For women, on the other hand, there are just two FDA-approved options: Addyi (Flibanserin), and Vyleesi (Bremelanotide). And while they both work for women well beyond menopause, as of right now,  neither of the two have been approved by the FDA for postmenopausal women, simply because FDA requirements have not been satisfied. And while pharmacologic treatments are not for everyone, both Addyi and Vyleesi should work for women of any age. Data on Addyi’s benefits in menopausal women was published almost 8 years ago, and is approved by Health Canada for use in women up to age 60. Many of our patients at IntimMedicine Specialists find it to be beneficial regardless of their age.

It is extremely frustrating that there are currently no testosterone products approved for women’s sexual health in the US. This past year, off label use of male testosterone products and compounded testosterone treatments for women had become so prevalent that the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH) developed a manifesto for healthcare practitioners.  This “how to” is a classic citation of safe and effective use of “male” testosterone products in women.

As emphasized in the NYT Magazine article,  people often face many physical challenges in the bedroom as we age. It is normal for bodies to change, and for the ways we access pleasure to shift. For example:

  • Vaginal dryness is a normal shift in the body.
  • Erections are often not as naturally hard, as reliable,  or as long-lasting.
  • Physical movements and positions may become more limited, but that doesn’t mean that adaptive positions can’t be just as pleasurable.

While pharmacologic options can be really helpful, they aren’t for everyone, and there are other resources that can help normalize and troubleshoot sexuality through the aging process. You should check out the following:

Next time you shudder at the mention of your parents or grandparents still enjoying sex, consider the age you want to stop having sex – our guess is that you don’t ever want that. So, if you (or that parent or grandparent) need a little help, let us help identify the problem and offer some solutions for your body (or theirs). We can help, just reach out.

a doctor hiking up a "mountain" which leads to a clitoris, labia, urethra, and vaginal opening - Illustration by Lori Malépart-Traversy

a doctor hiking up a "mountain" which leads to a clitoris, labia, urethra, and vaginal opening - Illustration by Lori Malépart-TraversyIllustration by Lori Malépart-Traversy

Women have the only organ in the human body exclusively dedicated to pleasure: the clitoris! This humorous, brief documentary gives an illustrated and educational history of the clitoris; it also reveals something very telling: the clitoris has long been ignored and hidden—by society, medical professionals, and educators. For many women, their early sexual partners provided them with their only sex education, with little knowledge or accuracy and much fumbling. Clitoral pleasure was discovered almost by accident. (More on that in The Clitoral Truth…)

Clitorologist?

Think about it. Have you ever been taught how to look at your clitoris? Has a doctor ever asked you about your clitoris or examined it? Medical professionals are not routinely taught the anatomy of the clitoris (Even some of the most famous textbooks don’t mention it!), and it is not considered part of the routine female pelvic exam. This poses a big problem: If doctors don’t know what a normal clitoris looks like, even how to properly examine it, how will they know what to do when questions or problems come up? What kind of doctor do you see if you have a problem with your clitoris? (Pssst: Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a clitorologist!)

Clitoral Pain

Pain in the clitoris (called “clitorodynia”) is considered a localized form of vulvodynia (vulvar pain) and is thought to occur in 5% of women who complain of painful intercourse. Given the lack of comprehensive research, it could be more.

Pain can be due to adhesions or scarring of the clitoris where the clitoral hood (aka the prepuce) gets stuck to the glans of the clitoris. This can lead to trapping and buildup of oils and dead skin cells which cause underlying irritation and infection.

Women describe the pain as burning, stinging, or sharp—some have likened it to the sensation of having a grain of sand in your eye. It can affect the whole pelvis and just feel like “pain down there,” or it can be very focal with pain at a small, targeted location.

Clitorodynia can make sexual experiences difficult, if not impossible. As well as potentially leading to sexual dysfunction, it can also make everyday life excruciating because the “pain down there” can be present all the time, even without sexual activity.

Help Exists

While there might not be a clitorologist, doctors trained in sexual medicine can diagnose and treat clitoral problems, we promise! With a specialized physical exam and several diagnostic tests, the underlying cause for your pain can be found. Luckily, successful medical and surgical treatment options are available. For example, clitoral adhesions can be removed in a minimally invasive, in-office, procedure using local anesthetics. In a high percentage of women with painful clitoral adhesions, such a procedure is curative.

Don’t Suffer

Sexual health is an important part of your general health. You deserve a pleasurable, pain-free sexual experience and life. If you have discomfort or pain, we are here to provide solutions. If any of the symptoms we mentioned sound familiar, our providers are trained to help. Let’s work together to improve your sexual health.

 

Pills sitting on pink counter surrounded by caution tape.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, founder of the wellness and lifestyle brand goop®, recently launched a new “sexual health supplement” marketed under the name DTF. According to advertisements, this product is intended to “support women’s sexual desire, arousal, and mood.” We believe this claim to be an example of a misleading campaign marketed to consumers that is unsupported by scientific evidence. 

Pills sitting on pink counter surrounded by caution tape.

As a member of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH), which is comprised of leading academics, researchers, clinicians, and educators in female sexuality, IntimMedicine supports and agrees with ISSWSH’s concern around frequent, unsubstantiated claims made about many over-the-counter (OTC) products marketed to women for sexual enhancement. goop®’s latest product, DTF, is one of these products that concerns us.

While we applaud the attempt to investigate herbal ingredients which are in use by consumers, the statement by goop® that the ingredients in DTF are “clinically studied to support female sexual health and function” is egregiously misleading. Here’s why:

According to their own website, DTF “hasn’t been evaluated by the FDA” and “is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent.”

According to the goop® website, DTF contains three main ingredients: Libifem®, a fenugreek seed extract, shatavari root extract, and saffron stigma extract. While one small study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2017 appears to support some potential benefit of one ingredient in DTF specifically to women with the vasomotor symptoms of “hot flushes, night sweats and other associated symptoms,” which are typically associated with the menopause, we were unable to find any data to demonstrate safety, efficacy or tolerability of the combination of active ingredients in DTF for women of any age to whom goop® makes these claims on female desire, arousal and mood.

As experts in the sexual health field committed to the highest standards of scientific research and medical care of women’s sexual health, we are not only concerned about the lack of proven benefit from such supplements, but also the potential harm to individuals who choose to take these products.

43% of U.S. women report some type of sexual problem for a multitude of bio-psycho-social reasons.  Lumping all sexual problems together is unlikely to lead to an appropriate treatment and improvement, which is why qualified healthcare providers, like IntimMedicine staff, diagnose a sexual problem before recommending a relevant treatment.

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) is a diagnosable and treatable medical condition experienced by upwards of 10% of U.S. women.  In 2018, ISSWSH published an HSDD process-of-care to assist healthcare providers in the diagnosis and management of pre- and post-menopausal women with HSDD. This open access article is freely available online.

In order to properly address low libido and HSDD, women should avoid self-treating with OTC products, like DTF, without the guidance of a licensed healthcare provider. 

There are two FDA-approved treatment options (flibanserin and bremelanotide) available in the U.S. for pre-menopausal women with acquired, generalized HSDD with extensive safety and efficacy data. Flibanserin is also approved in Canada for pre-menopausal women and naturally post-menopausal women ≤60 years of age.

As a practice that is focused on the advancement of women’s sexual health, it is our mission, alongside ISSWSH, to promote the dissemination of evidence-based information. Women should know that the medical community has treatments approved by regulatory agencies and processes of care to guide their healthcare providers in the delivery of evidence-based medicine.

References

  1. O’Malley, K. Gwyneth Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop just launched a supplement to boost female libido.
  2. Reilly, K. Do Gwyneth Paltrow’s new ‘DTF’ libido supplements really work? Doctors weigh in.
  3. Sydora BC, Fast H, Campbell S, Yuksel N, Lewis JE, Ross S. Use of the Menopause-Specific Quality of Life (MENQOL) questionnaire in research and clinical practice: a comprehensive scoping review. Menopause 2016;23:1038-1051.
  4. Steels E, Steele ML, Harold M, Coulson S. Efficacy of a proprietary Trigonella foenum‐graecum L. de‐husked seed extract in reducing menopausal symptoms in otherwise healthy women: a double‐blind, randomized, placebo‐controlled study. Phytotherapy Research 2017;31:1316-1322.
  5. Laumann EO, Paik A, Rosen RC. Sexual dysfunction in the United States: prevalence and predictors. JAMA 1999;281:537-544.
  6. Shifren JL, Monz BU, Russo PA, Segreti A, Johannes CB. Sexual problems and distress in United States women: prevalence and correlates. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2008;112:970-978.
  7. Brotto LA. The DSM diagnostic criteria for hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women. Archives of Sexual Behavior 2010;39:221-239.
  8. Clayton AH, Goldstein I, Kim NN, Althof SE, Faubion SS, Faught BM, Parish SJ, Simon JA, Vignozzi L, Christiansen K, Davis SR. The International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health process of care for management of hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2018;93:467-487.

Adapted from ISSWSH’s official statement.

an open bottle lying on its side with golden capsules emerging and on the table beside it

Sex supplements are everywhere and easy to access, but do they actually work?

Studies have shown that even Viagra, an FDA-approved prescription drug, has a placebo effect of over 30%, which tells me that if you believe Viagra or a sex supplement will work, it just might. But is it worth the negative effects that sex supplements can have?

Most sex supplements include ingredients that have not been tested or studied and may not be safe at all to take. Several common ingredients in sex supplements, including ginseng, yohimbe, tribulus, and ginkgo biloba, can have adverse side effects from headaches to seizures. It is just not worth it!

There are several FDA-approved options for you that are both safe and effective, such as Addyi for women or Viagra and several similar medications for men. Addyi helps women who have HSDD, or Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, which is the most common form of sexual dysfunction in women. HSDD by definition is lowered sexual desire. If you’re unsatisfied with your current level of sexual desire, or feel as if you had a higher desire for sex before, you might have HSDD, and Addyi could help! Viagra and several similar medications are common treatments for erectile dysfunction or ED, which can even effect men in their 20s. It’s not just for seniors! In fact, 50% of men in their 50’s, 60% of men in their 60’s and 70% of men in their 70’s have ED.

We also specialize in hormone replacement therapy, which can be used to treat a myriad of symptoms, including low libido and low testosterone. Hormone replacement therapy is safe to use, and we will create a cocktail of hormones specific to your body’s needs. Sometimes we can even package it up in a pellet, which we would then insert under your skin in a quick and relatively painless office procedure, so you can forget about it and get on with enjoying your life!

In addition, we will work with you to find out the root of your sexual problems, not just treat the symptoms. Just getting enough sleep or making small changes to your diet and exercise can improve sexual function, and make you feel a whole lot better. Maybe seeing a sex therapist will help you and your partner uncover what is holding you back. There are a number of effective ways to treat sexual dysfunction, but taking sex supplements is not one of them!

I understand the appeal to buying “over-the-counter” sex supplements instead of talking to a doctor about your sexual problems. It can feel embarrassing to talk about, and it’s been documented that many primary care physicians are equally awkward and embarrassed when the topic is breached, which is why seeing a sexual medicine specialist is a way to go. Sex is our bread and butter. We welcome the awkward questions!

Make an appointment to see one of our experts by calling 202-293-1000. Leave the sex supplements behind and get a tailored treatment plan that will actually work for you.

closeup of a doctor with a stethoscope in his pocket and a sexual health pin on his lapel

We are pleased to share a recent article in Washingtonian Magazine featuring an interview with our own Dr. James Simon, “The Menopause Whisperer.” In the article, Dr. Simon discusses female sexual dysfunction, the state of sexual healthcare for women, and his hopes for the future.

Read the full article “Sexual Dysfunction in Women Has Long Been Taboo. Washington’s Menopause Whisperer Is Here to Help” in Washingtonian Magazine.

Here is an excerpt from the article about one of Dr. Simon’s patients who consented to share her experience:

Palim stumbled on a Washington Post article that mentioned [IntimMedicine Specialists; Dr. Simon] put [Palim] on testosterone, and her condition rapidly improved. But if she hadn’t happened upon that story, “that might have just been the end for me of a part of my life and of my relationship with my husband that was meaningful and fun—and why? Why should I have had to give that up just because nobody bothered to tell me about it?”

If you or someone you know might benefit from seeing Dr. Simon or one of our sexual medicine experts at IntimMedicine Specialists, please share this post or give us a call at 202-293-1000 to make an appointment.

Men have Pills for their Sexual Dysfunction, Why Can’t Women?

A Response to “How Addyi, the ‘Female Viagra,’ Can Do More Harm Than Good” By Dr. James A Simon

Earlier this month, Dr. Janet Brito, a sex therapist based in Hawaii, raising a few questions about the efficacy and wisdom in using Addyi, known as the “Female Viagra,” to treat sexual dysfunction in women. The article she wrote has been removed from that site that posted it due to the inaccuracy of the information the article contained. In spite of this, I felt that it was important to address her concerns, and to explain how Addyi is, in fact, an empowering tool that women who are suffering from hypoactive sexual desire (HSDD) or female sexual interest/arousal disorder (FSAD).

Efficacy and Use

Regarding the efficacy and use of Addyi, Dr. Brito makes several claims that are either blatantly false or not based in fact. She states that Addyi “needs to be taken every day for at least 8 to 16 weeks before it starts working.” According to the package insert itself (approved by the FDA), if Addyi isn’t working by 8 weeks, its use should be discontinued.

Brito brings up the fact that “according to the Addyi website, ‘it’s exact mechanism of action is not fully understood,’” without any other comment, perhaps implying that this is a reason it should not be used, but this fact is also true for all antidepressants, pain killers, appetite altering medications and most medicines generally.

“Initially, flibanserin was slated for the treatment of depression. After two rejections by the FDA, Addyi was approved in 2015 to treat low sexual desire in premenopausal women — despite trials showing only minimal results compared to a placebo,” states Dr. Brito. Addyi was originally developed to treat depression, but in people with major depressive disorder where Addyi didn’t work for depression, it increased sexual desire. That’s correct, it worked to increase sexual desire even in women that were clinically depressed.

Thus, the company behind Addyi pursued sexual dysfunction as an option to help women suffering from hypoactive sexual desire disorder or HSDD or female sexual arousal disorder or FSAD. The drug was rejected twice by the FDA, in my opinion, because the FDA kept changing their mind about what they wanted.

The company was trying to develop a first-in-class medication where the tools for assessing efficacy weren’t invented yet. For responders to the medication (excluding all the non-responders), they had 5.7 sexual events per month, which can’t be considered minimal, and which the responders themselves judged as a meaningful improvement.

“Their desire stats did change and show an increase when researchers measured it according to the Female Sexual Function Index — but if participants didn’t notice their own response, can it really be considered effective?” asks Dr. Brito. The Female Sexual Function Index is a validated questionnaire answered by the study participants, an approach agreed upon with the FDA. Participants reply to the FSFI based on how they, the participants, feel.

Social Oppression and Relationships

Dr. Brito spends a great deal of the article drawing a connection between a pill to treat sexual dysfunction for women and a long history of societal oppression of women. I fail to see the connection, as Addyi is only prescribed to patients who wanted to increase their sexual desire for one reason or another, not because their partners or society had problems with their libidos as Brito suggests.

Brito’s other accusation that those who prescribe Addyi are not taking into account any of the other factors that might contribute to low sexual desire, is not based in fact. Study participants were excluded from entering the research studies if they had any other reason for their loss of sexual desire, any reason. Such reasons would have included: depression or other medical conditions, medications known to affect sexual function, and any relationship problems, just for examples. Erectile Dysfunction has many causes and factors, and yet men are prescribed Viagra without a second thought. Shouldn’t women have equal access to a pill that can help them with their sexual function, too?

Like those who are prescribed a pill for depression, Addyi can help women start living their lives again, and get back to their old selves.

Brito also writes, “…sometimes the issue is about the relationship you have with yourself, not others.” On this point, I totally agree. But women with relationship problems with themselves or their partners were excluded from the clinical development of Addyi as noted above. Addyi is there for women who have been diagnosed with HSDD or FSAD, who are in a healthy relationship with their partners, and who want to get back to enjoying their partners sexually.

Dr. Brito concludes the article with this line, “Instead, ask yourself, honestly, if any of the aforementioned factors are impacting your life. And, if so, what lifestyle changes to embark on to start to feel better on your terms.” Addyi, Viagra, anti-depressants, and a slew of other medications may not be the best choice for every patient, but the patient does have a choice.

Why a sex therapist (who cannot even prescribe Addyi or medication generally) is ruling out a drug that is effective, readily available, and which delivers on the promise to increase “sexual desire and satisfying sexual events,” is beyond me.

To discuss if Addyi might help you or determine if you might be suffering from HSDD or FSAD, give us a call at 202.293.1000 or e-mail us to make an appointment at our office in Washington, D.C.

older couple embracing and smiling

Sexual well-being is an important part of any person’s life, and when things aren’t going well or working right, it can be embarrassing and difficult to talk about with your sexual partner and your doctor. But it doesn’t have to be, and your life does not have to be dictated by sexual dysfunction. Below are a few common problems you or your partner might be experiencing. Read on to learn what to do to make an appointment with one of our sexual medicine specialists!

LOW TESTOSTERONE

It is true that a man’s sex drive decreases as he ages due to a natural decline in testosterone over the course of his life. But, sometimes testosterone production slows down too fast, resulting in low testosterone, or Low T. Low T can be connected to Erectile Dysfunction (ED), but it is not always the cause of ED. Low T is also connected to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and depression. If you are experiencing a reduced sex-drive as well as weight gain, depression, and irritability and brain fog, you might have Low T. Fortunately, our team of specialists are on the cutting edge of testosterone replacement therapy and we’ve got you covered.

ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION

Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is difficulty getting or maintaining an erection firm enough to have sex, and it has many causes. It can be caused by problems with blood flow due to heart problems, high blood pressure, or heavy smoking or alcohol use, all of which can contribute to damage to the blood vessels that create the blood flow into the penis, resulting in an erection. It can also be caused by nerve supply or hormone levels (see Low Testosterone above). Sometimes it is psychological, or it’s caused by interference from prescription drugs. Because Erectile Dysfunction can be caused by so many things, you’ll want to talk to our specialists about what might be causing it in your case. Dr. Rubin at IntimMedicine Specialists is a urologist with fellowship training in Sexual Medicine and performs extensive testing unique to each patient’s individual needs. Fortunately, ED is treatable! From behavioral changes to medications, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to penile implants, there is a solution out there for you.

STRESS OR DEPRESSION

Low sex drive or erectile dysfunction are often linked to stress and depression, either resulting from it or causing it. Talk to us about what’s going on in your life. Our holistic approach includes treating each patient as a whole person, with every aspect of their lives in mind. If stress or depression is a symptom of sexual dysfunction or is causing it, we are here to listen and to help you get relief from it.

None of these symptoms or sexual problems should rule your life. Often, men report depression and relationship problems that stem from sexual dysfunction. Don’t let these problems keep you from enjoying your life! The good news is that our very own urology specialist Dr. Rachel Rubin is on the cutting edge of today’s urology procedures and practices, and she is ready to listen and help create a treatment plan specifically for you – call 202.293.1000 to make an appointment with Dr. Rubin in the Washington, DC area to get your confidence and your life back today!

African American couple smiling with beverages and soft pretzels

If you or a loved one has an enlarged prostate known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), you are well aware of the negative effects it can have on your life, such as difficult or frequent urination. Maybe you’ve considered surgery, but the risks–including potentially worsening erectile or ejaculatory dysfunction, which you may already be experiencing due to BPH or the medications you’re taking in the first place–kept you from choosing that option.

We know living with BPH, which affects 12 times as many men as prostate cancer, can be a struggle. Men with BPH are more likely to suffer from depression, decreased productivity, a diminished quality of life, and interrupted sleep. Not treating BPH can cause symptoms to worsen and even lead to permanent damage to your bladder. What is one to do with these scary statistics and no good answers?

That’s where we come in! We are excited to share that the American Urological Association (AUA) now recommends on the UroLift® System “as a standard of care treatment for lower urinary tract symptoms due to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH),” and our very own Dr. Rachel Rubin, a urologic surgeon, and sexual medicine specialist, is one of the early adopters of this new treatment option for men with BPH. The UroLift System is a “proven, minimally invasive treatment that fills the gap between prescription medications and more invasive surgical procedures.”

“The Urolift System is one of the few sex-friendly treatment options we have for BPH,” Says Dr. Rubin. “It is shown to improve flow, urinary frequency, and urgency, all while allowing men to maintain their ability to ejaculate normally and not increase the chances of erectile dysfunction.”

The UroLift System consists of a UroLift Delivery Device and small UroLift Implants. The implants widen the urethra within the enlarged prostate, alleviating the irritating symptoms related to BPH. Men who have received UroLift Implants report “rapid and durable symptomatic and urinary flow rate improvement without compromising sexual function,” according to clinical data collected in a study by the manufacturer of UroLift. You can learn more about some of the men UroLift has helped on the company’s website.

So what are you waiting for? Make an appointment with Dr. Rachel Rubin here in Washington, D.C. today to discuss the UroLift System and get relief for BPH now!

Let’s face it: Pain during intercourse is problematic for many women across the lifecycle, especially after childbirth and later during the menopausal transition. The delicate skin of the vagina changes over time and with hormone fluctuations, a lot of women experience discomfort, dryness, and pain. These challenges can make intimacy uncomfortable (if not impossible) for some. But there is new laser-based technology available that can treat these issues affecting sex after childbirth and menopause.

This treatment is based on a special fractional CO2 laser, specifically created for the delicate vaginal mucosa. The treatment prevents and resolves estrogen declines in the vaginal tissue (typically occurring during menopause or after childbirth) by re-activating the production of new collagen and reestablishing the conditions that the vaginal mucosa once had.

No Surgery Required
This effective non-surgical, non-hormonal, and non-pharmacological solution helps to prevent and treat vaginal atrophy and is now available in our office! Please call us to make an appointment at (202) 293-1000 or to learn more about the benefits of this procedure.

I’d like to clear up some confusion regarding the use of estrogen to offset the symptoms of menopause. I won’t bury the lead; vaginal estrogen IS a safe menopause treatment for almost all menopausal women to use. Women using vaginally applied estrogen to minimize menopause symptoms do not increase their risk of heart disease, stroke, deep vein thrombosis, dementia or certain cancers including breast cancer in spite of what it might say in the Information for Patients (the package insert) which comes with this therapy.

But now, the back story.

The federally funded Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Clinical Trials studies documented that oral estrogen or oral estrogen plus progesterone pills increased the risks for heart disease, stroke, deep vein thrombosis, dementia and certain cancers including breast cancer. These results from studies published in 2002 and 2004 have come into much clearer focus more recently. Unfortunately, the patient population evaluated in these studies included women who had pre-existing health conditions such as being overweight, having high blood pressure, etc., and most importantly the study participants outside of the “estrogen window” for safety FOR SYSTEMIC HORMONE THERAPY. This confounded the results of the study, since most of the study participants were over 60 years old, and some were 79 years old, when they started on their treatments. However, the WHI researchers continued to look into safer options for the correct patient population, in order to alleviate symptoms which hinder a women’s overall quality of life and sexual wellness.

The “Estrogen Window”

Following the confusing outcomes of the WHI Randomized Clinical Trials (referred to above), researchers began to closely review other WHI data. The latest publication from the Observational part of the WHI (Carolyn J. Crandall, MD, and colleagues. Breast cancer, endometrial cancer, and cardiovascular events in participants who used vaginal estrogen in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Menopause: The Journal of The North American Menopause Society. Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 000-000, 2017. ePUB ahead of print) focuses on vaginal application of estrogen only for the treatment of vaginal symptoms of menopause. These included women’s experiences related to the deficiency of estrogen on the vagina, bladder and urethra, and particularly focused on the safety of vaginal estrogen treatments.

These symptoms investigated include:

  • dyspareunia (insertional or deep pain during sex)
  • lubrication/dryness issues during sex
  • vaginal atrophy
  • recurrent urinary tract infections
  • painful urination
  • generalized vulvar or vaginal discomfort
  • bleeding after sex

The one common group of symptoms that vaginal estrogen does not mitigate is hot flashes, night sweats, and disturbed sleep.

Risks and Rewards

The team aimed to find out if and how severe health risks affected women who were using this vaginal form of estrogen. Cardiovascular disease, breast, colorectal, and endometrial cancer, as well as deadly blot clots were health events that warranted a risk assessment in this study.

The data showed that among women with an intact uterus, the risks of stroke, invasive breast cancer, colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, and pulmonary embolism/deep vein thrombosis were not significantly different between vaginal estrogen users and nonusers.

I will emphasize that this was estrogen-only administration of therapy and none were taken by mouth. Oral therapies that travel through a patient’s digestive system and blood stream may also be safe for many, but that is not the administration route under the microscope in this paper recently published in the Menopause journal; by the North American Menopause Society. The “take home” message: vaginal estrogen can be safely used without fear of cardiovascular events caused by such therapy, after menopause.

It is important to visit a practice like ours that understands hormones and the role that they play during each phase of a woman’s life. The fluctuations you experience are not only normal, but very treatable. If you have questions about hormones, the menopause window, or whether you can safely use hormones, please call our office at (202) 293-1000 to make an appointment with our compassionate and knowledgeable staff.

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