You may think that discomfort down below only affects middle-aged women – but you would be wrong.
Only a quarter of women with pain see their doctor and those who do are often told nothing can be done
You may think that discomfort down below only affects middle-aged women – but you would be wrong. In younger women, symptoms can follow giving birth and during breast-feeding. And women with cancer are sometimes given oestrogen-supressing drugs, chemotherapy and X-ray therapy that will cause irritation and pain. Plus, women can be young when their ovaries have to be removed, so loss of oestrogen is immediate – causing instant menopause with instant discomfort.
Only a quarter of women with pain see their doctor and those who do are often told nothing can be done and they must learn to live with the pain.
Hundreds of thousands of women have vaginal discomfort ranging from irritation to pain that’s truly crippling and, yes, it’s most common in the pre-, peri- and post-menopausal age group. It’s mostly due to dryness and thinning contingent on loss of oestrogen and it makes sex, passing urine or even walking painful.
Women with pain can get a raw deal because they are still being told there’s nothing physically wrong with them, that there’s something wrong with their relationship or even that it’s all in their head. This is so unfair and unjust. The vagina really suffers as oestrogen declines. Without oestrogen, cells that line the vagina can’t mature, so the vaginal surface becomes thin. Collagen disappears, so the vagina loses its elasticity and hurts when stretched. It also becomes less acidic and the healthy bacterium lactobacillus disappears and is replaced by harmful bacteria or fungi, causing inflammation, discharge and more pain.
The oestrogen-deprived vaginal lining is vulnerable to tears and can split during sex, leading to so much pain that a woman shrinks from intimacy. And this scenario is worse for smokers and women who’ve never had children. It’s essential to seek help early. The longer the pain is untreated, the greater the chance it will become nerve pain and therefore persistent. An oestrogen ring, cream or suppository can help and a weak natural oestrogen, oestriol, is safe for women who’ve had an oestrogen-sensitive cancer. It’s also crucial for you and your partner to use lubricating jelly and a vaginal moisturiser like Replens can make sex more enjoyable. For weak pelvic floor muscles and shortening collagen fibres, a dilator or vibrator will increase the blood flow to the vaginal area. Yoga and Pilates will strengthen your vaginal muscles, too.