Our bodies go through many changes as we age. Some changes, like greying hair and wrinkles, are noticeable on the surface. While others, like changes in metabolism, bone density, and changes in the reproductive system are less visible. One of the most significant changes associated with menopause is the decline in estrogen levels.
What is estrogen?
Estrogen is a primary hormone that plays a crucial role in the growth and maintenance of the female reproductive organs. It also regulates other processes in the body, such as bone health, skin health, and cholesterol levels.
As we reach our mid-thirties, our hormone levels begin to shift, and fertility levels begin to decline by approximately half. In the mid-forties, perimenopause, the transition into menopause, will make hormone levels fluctuate.
Symptoms associated with these changes
If you're experiencing any of the symptoms listed below, know that you're not alone and there are treatments available that can help.
Vaginal Atrophy / GSM
Vaginal atrophy (atrophic vaginitis) is a thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vagina that is a result of decreased estrogen. Since it is not limited to only vaginal symptoms, doctors have begun to refer to it as genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) to reflect the fact that the condition also affects the urinary tract.
- As estrogen levels decrease, the vaginal tissues can become less hydrated, resulting in dryness and less natural lubrication and can result in what is commonly known as vaginal atrophy.
- When the vaginal tissues are dry and thin, they can be easily irritated or even torn during sex. This can cause pain or discomfort during sex.
- In some cases, it can also cause genital itching and burning.
- GSM Urinary Tract Symptoms include:
- Burning with urination
- Urgency with urination
- Frequent urination
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs): Thinner, more delicate tissues can become more susceptible to infection. UTIs can cause pain or burning while urinating, feeling the need to urinate frequently, or uncomfortable lower abdomen pressure or cramps. If untreated, a UTI can become a bladder or kidney infection and result in fever, chills, and nausea or vomiting.
Urinary incontinence occurs when you can't control your urine flow and experience leakage when coughing, sneezing, laughing, or exercising.
- While incontinence can be a symptom of a UTI, the loss of estrogen can also cause the pelvic floor muscles to weaken and can cause urinary incontinence.
- Though less intense than with a urinary tract infection, small leaks or urine dribbling during activities like laughing, coughing, or sneezing can occur.
Every vagina has a particular smell, including a healthy vagina. Although each woman has a distinct vaginal odor, some may cause concern.
- Changes in the vaginal microbiome can also occur as we age, resulting in an unpleasant smell or odor. Though this is perfectly normal, it can be unpleasant and uncomfortable.
- Avoid douching as it can further upset the balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina. You can wash the outside of your genital area with mild, pH-balanced soap as often as you need.
- Adding probiotics to your daily regimen may help regulate the balance of your body's bacterial makeup, which can assist in controlling any abnormal smells.
- If you have a fever or something doesn't seem right, be sure to speak with your gynecologist to rule out a bacterial or yeast infection.
Options to Manage Symptoms
From simple lifestyle changes to medication and surgical interventions, there are many options to ease or eliminate symptoms of vaginal changes due to aging. It's important to discuss with your healthcare provider which treatment option is right for you based on your individual needs and symptoms.
- Exercise regularly - Engaging in physical activity can help with maintaining healthy estrogen levels and improve blood flow to your lady parts.
- Hydration - Drinking plenty of water is not only essential for keeping your body healthy, but it also helps keep your vaginal tissues lubricated.
- Healthy diet - A healthy diet can make a big difference in managing symptoms. A diet rich in plant-based foods, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help boost estrogen levels.
- Get enough sleep - A good night's sleep can do wonders for your overall health. Poor sleep can worsen hot flashes and other symptoms.
- Lubricants and moisturizers: These over-the-counter products can be applied directly to the vaginal area to reduce dryness, itching, and discomfort. Lubricants are used during sexual activity to help ease penetration, while moisturizers can be applied daily to keep the vaginal area hydrated and comfortable.
- Topical estrogen creams: For women experiencing moderate to severe vaginal dryness and other symptoms associated with declining estrogen levels, topical estrogen creams may be a good option. These creams are applied directly to the vaginal area and work to replenish estrogen levels and improve overall vaginal health.
- Pelvic floor therapy: Pelvic floor therapy is essentially physical therapy that focuses on strengthening the muscles in the pelvic area. This therapy can help ease urinary incontinence, pain during sex, or other symptoms associated with weakened pelvic muscles. Kegels are often used in addition to other exercises.
- Red light therapy, such as vFit Gold by Joylux: This innovative treatment uses red light technology to improve vaginal health and function. By promoting collagen production and increasing blood flow to the vaginal area, red light therapy can improve vaginal hydration, sexual sensation, and pelvic floor strength. vFit Gold is a popular device that can be used in the comfort of your own home to achieve these benefits.
Find what works for you
While there are treatment options available to manage these symptoms, it's important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Just like everybody is different, what works for one person may not work for another. The bottom line is, don't suffer in silence! Speak with your healthcare provider about any symptoms you may be experiencing and together, you can find a treatment plan that works for you. Remember—taking care of your vaginal health is a vital part of taking care of yourself.