While women are often the ones who take care of their husbands, families and friends, a new study has revealed many aren’t taking enough care of themselves or their nether regions.
According to research published in Menopause, the Journal of The North American Menopause Society, vaginal problems can decrease the quality of life of women, but many worrying symptoms go underreported because women dismiss them as a normal part of the ageing process. One condition impacting up to 98 per cent of postmenopausal women is Vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA). VVA is the thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls because the body is producing less oestrogen and androgen.
It can make sexual intercourse extremely painful, with many women experiencing bleeding, discomfort and decreased levels of vaginal lubrication during sex. Others experience vaginal dryness, burning or discharge, while the condition can also cause itching in the genitals and an array of urinary symptoms. This can include anything from burning during or after urination, to an increased urgency to urinate and more urinary tract infections.
According to the study, as many as 50 per cent of all postmenopausal women experience vaginal dryness, which in turn is a major contributor to sexual dysfunction. Sadly, many women believe this is a natural part of the ageing process and fail to talk to their GP or health professional about the symptoms and ways to manage them.
The new research noted there are few studies that understand the link between VVA and the impact it has on the quality of life, but there was information available that found the effect of VVA on life was similar to the impact other health conditions, including arthritis, asthma and irritable bowel syndrome, have on women and their well-being.
The purpose of the latest European Vulvovaginal Epidemiology Survey was to describe the prevalence of VVA and the correlation of VVA symptoms with the quality of life in postmenopausal women. The results of more than 2,000 women were included as part of the study, with researchers concluding VVA does in fact worsen the quality of life on older and postmenopausal women.
The authors of the study recommended that healthcare providers need to recognise the affect of VVA symptoms as equivalent to other health conditions and have greater awareness of the impact it can have on women’s lives.
“Although both women and their health providers are often reluctant to talk about it, vaginal atrophy (part of the genitourinary syndrome of menopause) affects quality of life, self-esteem, and the intimacy of relationships,” North American Menopause Society Executive Director JoAnn Pinkerton said in a statement. “The good news is that there are over-the-counter therapies, such as lubricants and vaginal moisturisers, as well as local vaginal prescription therapies that can relieve both vaginal dryness and painful sex and improve the quality of life for women.”
Women should seek medical help or talk to their GP when they begin to notice pain during sexual intercourse that isn’t resolved by using products such as vaginal moisturisers, according to MayoClinic. It is also recommended that women book an appointment when they notice any other symptoms such as unusual bleeding or discharge, burning or general pain.
In addition to menopause, smoking and lack of sexual activity can increase the risk of VVA, while women who didn’t give birth vaginally are also more likely to experience symptoms. MayoClinic also says regular sexual activity can increase blood flow in the vagina, which can keep vaginal tissue healthier.