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Treating Menopause's Secret Symptom

Don't Ignore Dryness

Seeking Help and Staying Active continued...


"Women can continue to enjoy good sex as they age, and this common condition is very preventable and treatable," he says.


Bachmann says women can be confused when loss of vaginal lubrication starts before their periods have stopped. "Many women will erroneously believe there's something wrong with their relationship or something that is stressing them in their life," she says.


Early diagnosis and treatment of atrophic vaginitis is important because the condition often gets worse with time if left untreated.


"Sexual activity, particularly intercourse, helps maintain your ability to lubricate," says Love. "What tends to happen is, if you're not lubricating and it's a little bit painful, then you stop having sex. Then sex is more painful, so you start having it less, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even masturbating is good for increasing the ability to lubricate."

Some Treatment Options

The simplest treatments for any form of vaginal dryness are lubricants and hydrators, available in any pharmacy. These include water-based products such as KY Jelly, Astroglide, and Replens, which are more comfortable to use than oil-based petroleum jelly. And unlike petroleum jelly, they can be safely used with condoms.


Unfortunately, these lubricants, while helpful, are often not a complete solution for women with atrophic vaginitis. There weren't enough for Caroline Scott Brown.


"They were kind of messy," she says. "They did help, but they didn't totally solve the problem and then an hour later I was dry again. That's when I started researching [prescription] products and called my doctor."


For decades, relief has been available in the form of prescription creams that contain estrogen. They are placed directly in the vagina and although effective, they can be messy, and the estrogen is absorbed into the bloodstream. This can be a problem for women taking hormone replacement therapy because they don't want to increase the amount of female hormones in the blood even more. It is an even bigger problem for women who have or have had diseases, such as breast cancer, that thrive in an estrogen-rich environment.


Still, for women who don't mind a little extra estrogen in their systems, these creams are often effective. If you do choose this option, Love recommends you "use a little dab on your finger ... . Do that every day for about three weeks and then about three times a week after that."


And don't use estrogen cream as a lubricant with a male partner because he can absorb it, too -- and chances are he won't like that.


Recently, a company called Pharmacia has started manufacturing two new products for atrophic vaginitis that overcome some of the disadvantages of estrogen creams. One, called Vagifem, is a tiny pill, about the size of a baby aspirin, that is inserted high into the vagina with an applicator about the size of a pencil.

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