Guide to Menopause
Low Libido in Menopause
|What Is Vaginal Dryness?
Vaginal dryness is a common problem for most women after menopause, although lack of vaginal lubrication can occur at any age. It is usually noticed during intercourse when lack of lubrication makes love making painful. In younger women it may be a temporary condition caused by lack of foreplay, or an allergic reaction to a product they are using. Prolonged dryness is usually a sign of an underlying condition called vaginal atrophy (also called atrophic vaginitis and senile vaginitis) - a thinning and inflammation of the tissues lining the vulva and vagina. While this happens gradually to all women, it often worsens after menopause when estrogen levels are consistently low. Women also tend to be prone to vaginal dryness at other times in their life when estrogen levels are disrupted such as after childbirth or while breastfeeding.
Estrogen helps to keep the vagina healthy by maintaining lubrication, skin elasticity and acidity balance. These conditions facilitate sexual intercourse, as well as create a natural defense against vaginal and urinary tract infections. When estrogen levels fall, this defense system falls with it. The vaginal and vulva tissue becomes thinner and fragile (prone to tearing); and production of lubrication falls making intercourse uncomfortable. Estrogen levels can fall for a number of reasons:
Vaginal dryness can lead to the following symptoms:
Your doctor will be able to diagnose vaginal atrophy with a pelvic examination. He may also perform a Pap smear of vaginal cells (as opposed to cervical cells) to examine the cell structure more closely. You may need to provide a urine sample if you have urinary symptoms. A biopsy (small sample of vaginal tissue) may be taken to rule out other underlying causes such as vaginal cancer or lichen sclerosus. Any bleeding in postmenopausal women needs to be closely investigated. An endometrial biopsy will probably be ordered to rule out endometrial cancer (cancer of the womb), as doctors can not always tell where the blood comes from.
If your symptoms are not hormone related - resolving the underlying cause will rectify the problem. This may mean for example, practicing stress reduction techniques, avoiding possible chemical stimulants like swimming pools and hot tubs and so on. Painful intercourse can be relieved by using lubricants like K-Y jelly, Astroglide or Vagisil Intimate.
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