Vaginal dryness is a common symptom of menopause and it has been reported that it affects between 40% and 50% of women. It can be extremely irritating and sometimes painful but a lot of women don’t seek medical help due to sheer embarrassment. Further research revealed one in two women aged between 45 and 65 who were experiencing ‘the change’ had not consulted a healthcare professional.
The dryness is caused by a lack of the hormone oestrogen—which is vital for keeping the vagina healthy—and can lead to discomfort, burning and itching, making it a struggle to continue with day-to-day activities.
Dr Rekha Tailor, founder and medical director of Health & Aesthetics, said: “Going through menopause can affect everyone in different ways and there is no need to suffer in silence as there are a variety of treatments that can help.”
“Vaginal dryness is an uncomfortable subject for many but it doesn’t need to be. Even though it can be embarrassing to discuss something so personal, it is a very common issue that doctors have seen numerous times.”
HOW TO HELP
Lubricants and vaginal moisturiser
If your symptoms aren’t severe, it could be worth trying lubricants and vaginal moisturiser before you seek help from a medical professional. To ease any discomfort or pain during sex, applying a lubricant—in liquid or gel form—to both you and your partner before intercourse can temporarily (but instantly) relieve vaginal dryness and help improve your sex life.
If the dryness is causing you difficulty at other times too, you can apply moisturisers more regularly, usually every few days. You can buy lubricants and moisturisers without a prescription, and water-based products are generally recommended as anything with a fragrance can inflame the symptoms.
Dr Theodora Kalentzi, from a private menopause clinic at Medical Prime, said: “Vaginal dryness can absolutely impact women’s sex lives. Intercourse can become so uncomfortable and even painful that sexual desire is affected, creating a vicious circle.”
Dr Tailor added: “Sex is a large part of life for many women and vaginal dryness can be very damaging to romantic relationships.”
In this research, half of the women surveyed admitted that menopause put a strain on their sex life. Vaginal dryness can cause discomfort during intercourse, make it difficult to get aroused and reach orgasm and provoke a complete loss of libido.
Dr Kalentzi went on to say: “Using moisturises and lubricants that are designed for the feminine area during intercourse can help but this is a short-term solution and it does not suit everyone, nor do they restore the vaginal physiology.
“If a woman experiences local irritation, with or without discharge, pain and/or bleeding during intercourse she should see a doctor and in the case of bleeding this should be urgent.”
If you don’t find the self-help alternatives effective and your symptoms are very severe, your GP may recommend vaginal oestrogen. This works to increase the level of oestrogen that is declining due to the menopause.
There are different forms of this available, such as:
- pills (pessaries)
- vaginal creams
- vaginal rings
Which one you use comes down to personal preference.
While it may become a more permanent treatment later, a few weeks might pass before the oestrogen takes effect. If this is the case, it could be beneficial to use the lubricant or moisturiser as well during the start of the treatment
It is recommended to use oestrogen continuously as the dryness often returns if you stop taking the medication. Side effects are very few and rare, but include irritation and damage to latex condoms and diaphragms.
Dr Kalentzi added: “It is recognised that women do not usually talk about or present vaginal dryness to their doctor, so it might be more common than we think.
“In my experience, almost 90% of women report vaginal dryness of some degree. My advice to women is not to accept vaginal dryness as part of getting older. Although it is not life‑threatening it can affect their quality of life and potentially their relationships.”
Hormone replacement therapy [HRT]
Another option your GP might mention is hormone replacement therapy, to restore the hormones that your ovaries are no longer producing. This can be prescribed as a combination of oestrogen and progestogen, in the form of tablets, a skin patch or gels applied to skin.
HRT using just oestrogen is usually recommended for women who have had a hysterectomy. HRT can be more beneficial than vaginal oestrogen if you are experiencing symptoms of menopause other than vaginal dryness, such as:
- hot flushes
- mood swings
- night sweats
However, it is worth keeping in mind that there are a variety of side effects that could occur with this option, such as:
- abdominal pain
- breast tenderness
- vaginal bleeding
These side effects often pass within a few weeks. If they don’t, or if you have any concerns, it is important to speak to your GP. There have also been reports of a slight increase in the risk of blood clots and breast cancer.
Dr Tailor said: “All women will respond to each treatment differently so it is important to discuss each option with medical professionals in order to get the best result and to relieve you from the irritation and discomfort as soon as possible.”
If you decide not to use medication to help relieve your symptoms, another option is to get vaginal rejuvenation, known as Femilift. A female doctor carries out this procedure, using a laser to stimulate collagen growth. This increase in collagen rejuvenates and tightens vaginal tissue, which in turn improves vaginal dryness.
There are major advantages to undergoing this treatment—it takes between 10 and 15 minutes and doesn’t require any recovery time, so won’t interfere too much with your schedule. It is also a fairly comfortable process that doesn’t involve any anaesthesia.
Although Femilift might not be seen as an affordable option for everyone, with the price for a course of three treatments costing £3,000 it is a great investment which may positively affect your life. Three treatments of Femilift produces results that last between 12 and 18 months. A single treatment, costing £1,250, can also be used for maintenance after this time period.
Dr Tailor said “Femilift is a great long-term solution for vaginal dryness, as well as many other problems women might experience such as weak pelvic floors, painful sex and urinary incontinence. This investment allows women experiencing these issues to live their lives comfortably again with fewer embarrassing issues.”
This table compares each solution in order to help you find out which may be best for you.
- Instant results
- makes sex less painful and more comfortable
- Only a short term solution.
- Can irritate in some cases.
- Increases level of oestrogen
- Few side effects
- More effective than lubricant
- Takes a few weeks for the treatment to work
- Treatment needs to be indefinite in order to work
HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)
- Relieves most menopausal symptoms
- More side effects
- Takes a while for the treatment to begin working
- Long lasting results
- No side effects