When it comes to menopause symptoms like hot flashes, weight gain or trouble sleeping, most women don't hesitate to speak to their doctor about it. But there is another common -- and equally distressing -- effect of menopause that many women just keep to themselves. It's vaginal atrophy, and while nearly half of all post-menopausal women will experience it, most are too shy or embarrassed to talk about it, even with their doctor.
Vaginal atrophy is an uncomfortable but common problem for menopausal and post-menopausal women, and can begin to affect women as young as their mid-forties. Common symptoms include burning (while urinating or not), itching, vaginal dryness, vaginal irritation, painful intercourse, light bleeding after sex, a clear or watery discharge, urgency with urination, urinary incontinence (leaking of urine), and frequent urinary tract infections.
"With symptoms like vaginal dryness, irritation, and pain during intercourse, vaginal atrophy can have a big impact on a woman's body image, her self-esteem and her relationship with her partner. These symptoms can be distressing whether or not a woman is sexually active," says Dr. Shawna Johnston, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Queen's University. "Up to half of post-menopausal women will experience symptoms of vaginal atrophy, yet many don't feel comfortable discussing their symptoms with their doctor, which is a real shame because with silence, they will just continue to suffer. Vaginal atrophy will not go away on its own and may even get worse over time."
But Novo Nordisk, a Canadian-based pharmaceutical company, is looking to help women break their silence and get the help they need. They've started "The Big Ow" campaign, encouraging women to talk to their doctor, as well as other women, about the condition. The campaign web site, www.TheBigOw.ca, provides resources for women to learn about the condition, get tips on how to talk to their doctor, and take self-assessment quizzes to help them determine if they might be suffering from vaginal atrophy. Even women without vaginal atrophy are encouraged to share the site and talk to their friends who may be suffering. According to a recent international survey of menopausal and post-menopausal women, one in three Canadian women experience vaginal discomfort, with more than half of these women describing their symptoms as moderate to severe. Despite this, seven-in-ten women are not being treated for these symptoms and nearly half of all women surveyed were unaware that menopause-related vaginal discomfort could be treated locally. Many women simply accept vaginal discomfort or believe that it's just part of that stage of life."Many women keep vaginal discomfort a secret and try to take care of it on their own with vaginal moisturizers or lubricants. These are just band aid solutions that don't address the real problem, which is estrogen deficiency in the vagina," said Dr. Johnston. "Women need to know that they can get relief with safe, effective and mess-free treatments that deliver low doses of estrogen to the affected area, and get back to enjoying life, including a healthy, active sex life without vaginal discomfort."