Very often you get to hear women talk of “good riddance”, referring to the relief that comes with menopause, from the use of sanitary pads or towels whenever the monthly periods came visiting. And yes, it is nice to know that you will no longer have to worry about forgetting your pads while attending a public function or entertaining guests in the house, going to work or simply taking an evening walk. Indeed it can be scary to be caught unaware. Sadly though is the fact that while on one end it brings good tidings, menopause brings with it a lot of other symptomatic complications. These symptoms include hot flashes, mood swings, sweating, and loss of sleep, irritability, vaginal dryness and vaginal pains.
The medical term for vaginal dryness is “atrophic vaginitis”, which basically refers to the lack of right amounts of moisture in the vaginal region. The vaginal discomfort is primarily experienced because with menopause a woman loses her natural lubrication, since the body ordinarily lubricates the walls of the vagina with a slight layer of moisture. The secretion of this moisture, call it fluids, is a direct product of being sexually aroused, and increased flow of blood in the blood vessels. Just as these unwelcome changes may draw the attention of women and cosmetic firms to wrinkles and generally visible skin, the unsaid story is that genital tissues are equally affected and are calling for necessary attention.
There is absolutely nothing unusual with experiencing vaginal discomfort during menopause. What happens is that female hormonal levels decline with menopause. As a result of reduced production of estrogen, the vaginal walls kind of start shrinking and they not only become thin but also loses elasticity. The vagina loses its lubrication, and with dryness comes great vaginal discomfort, resulting in bleeding and tearing down of tissues around the vagina. Unless appropriate treatments are sought and administered, the last thing a menopausal woman would want to hear at this juncture is a call to sexual intercourse, for then it is becomes very painful. The intensity of vaginal dryness may vary from one woman to another and no matter how annoying or severe they may be, life must not be impeded.
You might want to take refuge in knowing that you can never be alone with vaginal discomfort. More than 50% of menopausal women are confronted with this problem at different stages of menopause. It is estimated that more than 2 million women transit to menopause every year, putting the figure at more than 5,000 women on a daily basis. The reduced production of estrogen in the post-menopausal period, unless replaced through therapies and other menopause treatments, not only brings about painful sexual experience, but also results in vaginal burning. In other cases, it is common for women here to notice a form of discharge and experience general irritation of the vagina. Other common symptoms of vaginal dryness in women may include light bleeding during sex, some burning sensation, itchy feelings around the vagina, increased discomfort when wearing pants, and urinary frequency.
Itching during menopause may take two directions – may be either internal or external, with external itching resulting from the drying of vulva tissues, which brings about loss of the moisture that is both acidic and protective. The mentioned slight bleeding, having finished a moment of sexual intimacy, is indicative of ruptured tissues in the vagina, and your partner should take care to avoid forceful penetration which may unnecessarily further tear apart the delicate vaginal tissues. It is a question of force and increased friction with reduced lubrication.
While there are other physical, emotional and environmental causes of vaginal dryness, women who have undergone HRT (hormone replacement therapy) in the recent past, even for other causes other than menopause, may experience severe symptoms of vaginal dryness. Chronic stress levels, whether as a result of complications of other menopausal symptoms or out of failure to embrace the transition, may also play a central role in aggravating the levels of vaginal discomfort. No woman should have her quality of life very negatively affected by menopausal changes, including vaginal dryness and discomfort.
There are many preventative and curative measures one can consider, and still enjoy life as before, especially given that for the better part of menopause you would still be sexually active, and so would be your partner.
You need not be afraid of discussing these symptoms or changes with your spouse or doctor, no matter how ‘personal’ you consider them. Remember it is a natural transition. If your doctor does not take the initiative to be proactive in bringing up this subject, take up the matter provoke a discussion – after all, the pains or gains are yours, and so is the choice. It is normal.