Severe sexual and urinary health problems after menopause are linked with poorer quality of life, a recent study suggests.
Researchers examined survey data from 2,160 women, ages 45 to 75, who reported at least one symptom after menopause related to what’s known as vulvovaginal atrophy, a common condition that can include symptoms like vaginal dryness, painful intercourse and urinary incontinence.
Overall, women with severe vulvovaginal atrophy symptoms reported a much worse quality of life than women with mild symptoms, researchers report in Menopause.
The results suggest that many women may be needlessly suffering from symptoms they either don’t discuss with their doctor or don’t know it’s possible to treat, said lead study author Dr. Rossella Nappi of the University of Pavia in Italy.
“It is important to give dignity to a set of symptoms that most people believe are trivial, not important, not relevant to be treated,” Nappi said by email. “Some people believe they will go away with time and do not understand the chronic nature of conditions that are not life-threatening but may significantly impact intimacy, self-esteem and body image.”
Women go through menopause when they stop menstruating, typically between ages 45 and 55. As the ovaries curb production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, women can experience symptoms including vaginal dryness, urinary tract infections, mood swings, joint pain, memory trouble, hot flashes and insomnia.
Many women may find symptoms eased by hormone replacement therapy, said Dr. Michelle Warren of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Women may take vaginal estrogen in creams or in other forms like suppository pills, for example, and there is also Osphena, a prescription pill women can take that may ease vaginal dryness and sexual dysfunction.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how specific menopause symptoms directly impact women’s quality of life. The study authors also had financial ties to several companies that make drugs to treat a variety of menopause symptoms.
Even so, the results highlight the need for women to realize that menopause symptoms can lead to chronic health problems, and that these problems are often treatable, said Dr. Chandan Gupta of UC Health Primary Care, Women’s Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Medical treatment is often sought out when symptoms become intolerable,” Gupta, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
“The findings from this study confirm that menopausal changes have a significant impact on quality of life - this impact may be as significant as that of other common chronic medical conditions such as arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and irritable bowel syndrome,” Gupta added. “Medical care is pursued routinely for these other conditions, but menopause-related changes in a woman’s vagina, vulva and urethra, such as dryness, irritation, soreness and urinary frequency are usually ignored.”