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Women's Health

Treating Menopause's Secret Symptom.

Don't Ignore Dryness
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'Not an Automatic Thing'

Atrophic vaginitis occurs to a certain degree in all women as they age and their estrogen declines. Even women taking hormone replacement therapy are not immune because it is not always enough estrogen to keep things functioning normally.

And fortunately, not everyone will have the most troubling symptoms, which can have a major impact on quality of life, especially sex life.

"It's not an automatic thing," says Susan Love, MD, who specializes in women's health and is the author of many books on the topic, including Dr. Susan Love's Hormone Book. "In studies, only about 10%-20% of all women will get vaginal dryness [after menopause]. There are gradations."

Seeking Help and Staying Active

But for those women who are affected, many are embarrassed to discuss vaginal discomfort with their physician. Others feel that uncomfortable sex is a natural and unavoidable aspect of getting older. But nothing could be further from the truth, says Kaunitz.

"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.

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