Let’s Break The Taboo And Talk About Menopause!
Menopause is a stage of a woman’s life which sees a lot of changes and normally occurs 12 months after a woman’s last menstrual period. This marks the end of the menstrual cycles in her life.
This natural biological process, which normally occurs in women in their 40s or 50s, is still somewhat of a taboo subject, but is one which is important for women to understand.
One of the major side-effects of menopause, that most women do not realize, is vaginal dryness. This can often be painful and uncomfortable. In fact, up to half of all women will experience vaginal dryness and urinary tract symptoms after menopause. Dr Trudy Smith, a Johannesburg-based gynecologist, explains that the urogenital tract is particularly sensitive to the decline in oestrogen that occurs during the process of menopause.
“The lining of the vagina becomes thinner, there is reduced blood flow to that area and it loses some of its support tissue,” she says. “Vaginal moisture is decreased and changes in the pH inside the vagina increases the risk of inflammation and infection. Unlike hot flushes and night sweats, which get better over time, these vaginal symptoms are usually progressive and frequently require treatment.”
Smith explains that almost all women with vaginal symptoms, experienced dryness and often uncomfortable symptoms as well, including itching, discharge and pain. “These symptoms significantly affect a woman’s quality of life and they can make having sex extremely uncomfortable and painful. This often means that women lose all desire for sexual activity and avoid intimacy with their partner, which can have a devastating effect on their relationship if they don’t talk about it and seek help.”
A recent study has shown that over two-thirds of women, and almost three-quarters of their male partners, felt that vaginal discomfort resulted in avoidance of sexual activity, which in turn had an impact on their relationship.
It also showed that vaginal discomfort had created an emotional distance between them and their partners; with their partners saying that they felt isolated and did not understand what was going on that led their partners to withdrawing from physical contact.
There is a silver lining. There is a treatment available in the form of vaginal oestrogen tablets, which are effective as well as simple to use. Oestrogen can be applied directly to the walls of the vagina by applying a topical cream or inserting a small tablet, which helps to avoid the side-effects that might occur with oral hormone therapy.
“Women and their partners do not have to suffer because they don’t know how to ask for assistance”, says Dr Smith. “We need to educate women better as to what is happening to their bodies and that these changes are normal. There are treatments available over the counter that do not require a prescription.”
Women should not feel embarrassed to talk to their family doctor, gynaecologist or pharmacist about their concerns and discomforts during the menopause. The taboo should be over!
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