Within a few years of menopause, up to 50% of women develop symptoms related to vaginal atrophy (VA), also called the genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), a common but treatable condition. VA is where the vaginal walls become thin, fragile and inflamed due to the reduction of estrogen that naturally occurs during menopause. GSM includes the vaginal symptoms of atrophy (burning, itching, dryness, irritation and painful intercourse), but also includes bladder issues and issues of sexual function.
According to a recent study, not only is GSM causing physical discomfort, but it’s also causing emotional distance between couples. The stigma surrounding GSM, a highly personal condition, is still present and many women are embarrassed to talk about it with their partner or even their healthcare professional.
Virtual healthcare — which provides on-demand consultations with medical professionals via text or video chat from the comfort of home — poses an ideal solution for women who may be avoiding an in-person consultation with their physician to discuss vaginal or urinary symptoms.
The Clarifying Vaginal Atrophy’s Impact on Sex and Relationships (CLOSER) study, which surveyed more than 1,000 North American post-menopausal women and male partners of post-menopausal women, aimed to determine the impact of vaginal discomfort and local estrogen therapy on intimacy, relationships, and women’s self-esteem.
Below are some shocking results from the survey:
- 66% of post-menopausal women avoid sexual intimacy fearing it is too painful
- 63% of women avoid sexual intimacy due to a general loss of libido
- Canadian women are among the most likely to agree that due to VA, sex is less satisfying
- One fifth of women feel VA has made them emotionally distant from their partner
- 44% of women say VA makes them feel old
- 68% of men surveyed say they have sex less often because of VA
- 30% of men say sex is less satisfying for them personally because of VA
- 26% of Canadian men say they have stopped having sex altogether because of VA
Fortunately, there are treatment options.
TREATING THE SYMPTOMS
Many women self-treat using over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers, which may provide temporary relief of symptoms but do not treat VA. Effective treatment options are available, with local estrogen therapy (LET) being a standard of care. As a result of LET, one third of North American women surveyed in the CLOSER Study agreed that their sex lives had improved and that they felt more optimistic about the future of their sex lives.
LET comes in several forms:
- An estrogen-releasing ring can remain in the vagina for a maximum of 3 months, and release hormones to address the changes
- A topical estrogen cream can be applied locally to relieve symptoms quickly and used about twice per week
- Oral medications containing estrogen can be prescribed, though risks and benefits need to be reviewed as each patient is different
- An easy-to-use, low-dose vaginal tablet can be inserted twice per week
Health Canada recently approved the use of two laser machines for treating VA, used to safely create micro-damage to the tissue within vaginal walls and stimulate regrowth of collagen and thicker tissue as it heals. Laser treatment includes a series of three treatments six weeks apart. While it is exciting in medicine to have new options, laser treatment at this time is being evaluated carefully for its risks and benefits. For those patients who are not good candidates for local estrogen, this may prove to be very helpful, but it is a bit early to decide at this time.
It is important to remember that intimacy does not need to be sacrificed as a result of VA. To determine which treatment is right for you, talk to your doctor. Don’t have the time to visit yours? Simply use our Medisys On-Demand application to communicate instantly with a healthcare professional, from the comfort of your home. Click here to learn more about virtual care services.