Menopause is a natural, unavoidable, transition and its signs usually starts to be seen between 45 and 55 years of age, as our hormone levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51 – unless she has had a hysterectomy which will bring on an immediate menopause – but around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before 40 years of age and around 50% of us do suffer menopause symptoms.
A study that will be published in the April 2016 edition of the journal Menopause reveals that it is not hot flushes or mood swings that may be the biggest problem at menopause, but an area many women are reluctant to discuss or seek treatment for.
The most distressing – and under reported symptoms – at menopause
We know that many women do find it difficult to discuss personal and intimate issues with their doctor, and given the short appointment time it often is not possible to get to the root of what most concerns them. Certainly the most coverage is given to hot flushes and night sweats and there is plenty of information around on dealing with that, but the vast majority of women will experience symptoms located in the vaginal area and that is much less well reported.
Researchers from Dartmouth, Yale and Connecticut Healthcare found that 51% of post-menopausal women deal with vaginal and vulvar problems. These can include:
- vaginal dryness
- vaginal atrophy
- vaginal prolapse
- itching or burning, pain sensations
- a discharge or odour
- greater urinary frequency
These are not small problems as they affect every day life. With symptoms such as these sex can be painful, difficult or embarrassing with loss of urinary control or discharge. This can then lead to a subsequent loss of libido and damage to a relationship if it is not addressed.
How to help yourself
The most vital thing is to not ignore any of these symptoms but discuss them with a doctor, therapist of healthcare practitioner. However, a third of women suffering these problems don’t seek help, whether through embarrassment or a feeling that ‘it’s just part of menopause’ and there is nothing to be done about it.
It may certainly be related to menopause as hormone levels change, and this can lead to vaginal issues if the oestrogen levels drop too far, so supplementing with a bioidentical combination cream that has both oestrogen and progesterone can be helpful for many women.
However if you have vaginal atrophy this normally requires additional oestrogen from your doctor and you can then use progesterone alongside this additional oestrogen until it is more under control at which point you could switch to a combination cream such as 20-1.
Many of the problems related to itching, burning and discharge can be due to bacteria, or from a yeast infection such as candida or sexually transmitted diseases. Heavy use of antibiotics and a weakened immune system can all make women more likely to get a yeast infection and can also produce a thick, white, discharge. See your doctor to eliminate these as the cause of the problem. Protect yourself with a diet that includes probiotics and live natural yoghurt.
Another concern can be chemical irritants from everyday items such as detergents, fabric conditioners, soaps, condoms, contraceptive foams, soaps, bath products and shower gels. If you think this might be the case switch to natural unscented products and wash the vaginal area only with warm water to let the irritation settle.