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Vaginal Atrophy Misunderstood by Most Women

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

With the approach of World Menopause Day, experts are focusing on treatment of Vaginal Atrophy (VA) that affects half of women after menopause. The condition that interferes with sexual health from symptoms of vaginal dryness, itching, susceptibility to infection and painful intercourse is treatable, yet few women discuss treatment options with their physician. The International Menopause Society (IMS) is urging open dialogue between women and clinicians about the seemingly "taboo" subject.

Vaginal Atrophy seems to be a subject widely avoided in discussion with heath care providers. Many women live with the condition despite treatment options that are safe.

Dr David Sturdee, President of the IMS and lead author of the Recommendations, said, “It is unacceptable that women are living with VA for so long, when various safe and effective treatments are available. So, to mark World Menopause Day, the IMS is launching the new recommendations and is calling upon doctors to proactively raise the topic of vaginal health with postmenopausal patients. Women with VA are also encouraged to seek medical advice, as there is absolutely no need for them to continue suffering in silence.”

An international study, VIVA (Vaginal Health: Insights, Views & Attitudes) Survey, revealed that 96 percent of postmenopausal women believe Vaginal Atrophy symptoms stem from other conditions such as thrush or a bladder infection. The survey also showed that women don't understand the chronic nature of Vaginal Atrophy that could be remedied with physician treatment versus lubricants and moisturizers that fail to address the underlying problem.

Women aren’t Talking about Vaginal Atrophy

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The researchers surmise women are concerned about using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) because of health concerns. They recommend that physicians discuss the option of local estrogen therapy for Vaginal Atrophy that differs from oral hormone replacement because it doesn't cause any systemic effects.

Cultural issues are also implicated as a reason postmenopausal women won't talk to their doctors about sexual health related to VA; especially male physicians. The International Menopause Society suggests clinicians initiate the discussion, and they offer advice and guidance to healthcare providers that can help women with open dialogue that they say is generally well received.

The impetus behind World Menopause Day is to raise awareness among women about the importance of menopause and its impact on the lives of women. The effort, initiated by the International Menopause Society is being launched in collaboration with the World Health Organization. On October 18 the IMS and the member national societies of CAMS, the Council of Affiliated Menopause Societies will distribute materials and organize activities to inform women about managing menopause and estrogen loss.

Dr Rossella Nappi, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Research Center for Reproductive Medicine and Director of the Gynecological Endocrinology & Menopause Unit, University of Pavia (Italy), said, “It is so sad that women are suffering in silence with this condition; many believe that VA is just an inevitable part of menopause and that they have no choice but to live with the consequences. However, this is not the case, so it is vital that a dialogue about vaginal health is initiated with postmenopausal patients as part of routine.”

The findings from the VIVA survey revealed Vaginal Atrophy remains a taboo topic of discussion for 96 percent of women. Additional findings show that two-thirds of women never had a conversation with their mother about menopause and only two in five would discuss Vaginal Atrophy with their spouse or partner. Clinicians can find the guidelines and recommendations in the December 2010 edition of Climacteric or at the IMS website.