Vaginal dryness: it may not be the most comfortable topic to talk about, and it most certainly is not comfortable to live with, but there are ways to combat the issue. Vaginal dryness is commonly known as vaginal atrophy, but experts agree that it should be referred to as Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM) since the condition occurs most often after menopause. It involves the thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal wall due to the body having less estrogen in its system, which makes vaginal tissue thinner, drier, less elastic and more fragile. As we know, these drops in estrogen levels occur after menopause, but they also can happen also during the years leading up to menopause, after surgical removal of both ovaries, after pelvic radiation therapy or chemotherapy for cancer, or as a side effect of breast cancer hormonal treatment.
While the condition is common, it does not happen to all menopausal women. The Mayo Clinic suggests that regular sexual activity, both with or without a partner, can help a woman maintain healthy vaginal tissues, and thus, decrease her chances of developing GSM. Two additional factors that could contribute to the cause of GSM are smoking, which affects the blood circulation, resulting in vaginal and other tissues not getting enough oxygen, and also reducing the effects of naturally occurring estrogen in the body; and not having a vaginal birth, as research shows that women who have never given birth vaginally are more likely to develop GSM than those who have.
GSM can result in painful sexual intercourse, as well as burning, discharge, genital itching, light bleeding after sex, decreased vaginal lubrication during sexual activity and a shortening and tightening of the vaginal canal. Women who experience GSM are also more likely to have vaginal infections because of the imbalance of acid in the vagina, as well as urinary problems such as an increased frequency or urgency to urinate, a burning sensation during urination, or increased urinary tract infections or incontinence.
Dr. Ghea, a female obgyn in Plantation, is here to provide her best women’s health tips on how to combat this common, post-menopausal condition. If your vaginal dryness peaks during sexual intercourse, making it extremely uncomfortable and almost unbearable, there are many ways to help alleviate the pain and discomfort. Physicians recommend topical agents, such as over-the-counter vaginal creams or moisturizers including Replens®, Lubrin®, Sylk®, vitamin E vaginal suppositories, Astroglide®, Luvena®, K-Y Jelly®. There are also topical vaginal estrogen products available by prescription, which include a vaginal estrogen ring, tablet and cream. If you prefer to go the all natural route, oils such as grapeseed, olive, sweet almond, sunflower or coconut are all safe choices for lubricants.
There is also the option for laser treatment. Vaginal rejuvenation programs, such as the one offered at Johns Hopkins University, use laser therapy to address the problems associated with vaginal atrophy or GSM. This particular program is unique in that it uses a non-hormonal alternative for women who may be hormone-sensitive, such as breast or gynecologic cancer survivors, or women who simply don’t want to be exposed to estrogen therapy. This laser technology involves inserting carbon dioxide into the vagina in order to stimulate collagen and elastin, resulting in restored vaginal tissue and increased hydration. Side effects are minimal — temporary burning or discomfort from the probe insertion — and resolve themselves within a few days. It’s a relatively quick and easy procedure, including three treatments spaced six weeks apart that take no more than 7 minutes and there is no anesthesia needed.
As a Fort Lauderdale obstetrician, Dr. Ghea is here to address all of your questions and concerns when it comes to vaginal dryness and the ways in which to treat the condition. If you are looking for a Plantation obgyn, Dr. Ghea can be found at Westside OB/GYN Group. Appointments can be made by calling 954-473-2011 or requesting online.