Vaginal atrophy – a menopause taboo?
BeingEve spoke to Jane Lewis, 52, a sufferer of vaginal atrophy for many years. Jane has written a new book, ‘Me & My Menopausal Vagina’ which explains candidly her own experience of the condition and the impact it has on her life.
According to Jane, roughly 50% of women will get vaginal atrophy but the medical profession say that figure is nearer 70 – 80% with only 7% going to their doctors due to the stigma surrounding it.
Jane believes that education is key to breaking down the taboo of this rarely discussed menopause symptom and hopes to lead the way in helping other women with vaginal atrophy to talk about their experience and seek the right support and treatments needed.
What is vaginal atrophy?
Vaginal atrophy is the thinning and drying of the vaginal walls due to the reduction in oestrogen. The symptoms can include burning, soreness, thinning skin, splitting skin and repeat UTIs. The vagina becomes shorter and tighter, the outer and inner labia becomes thinner and more fragile as does the perineum, this can also affect old Episiotomy scars.
What is the main cause of vaginal atrophy?
The reduction in oestrogen is the main cause which starts from our mid 30s… so we really need to educate younger women.
What are the main symptoms that you have personally experienced?
I have a burning vulva, soreness, itching, sex is too painful, UTIs and old Episiotomy scars are almost splitting open… GRIM. I can no longer ride a bike or sit for long periods at a time.
You don’t hear much about this symptom of the menopause, why do you think that is?
It seems that most women are uncomfortable talking about vaginal atrophy which goes some way to explaining why only 7% will talk to their doctors about their symptoms. I feel that it’s very important to take vulva health seriously, get out the mirror and look today. Become vulva aware the same as breast aware.
How has vaginal atrophy impacted on your personal life and emotional well-being?
It’s impacted significantly on my personal and social life, even more so on my mental health. To have a sensitive vulva and bladder is enough to send you bonkers some days.
Can it be reversed?
Vaginal atrophy can’t be reversed or cured, but it can be managed with moisturiser and local oestrogen and for some, HRT. The pelvic floor area is very oestrogen dependent.
What advice do you have for women suffering from vaginal atrophy?
If you have any of the above symptoms do NOT self-treat, see your GP as there is help, vaginal atrophy has similar symptoms to vulva cancer and lichen sclerosis, so you must be checked by a medical professional.
Why did you decide to write a book about your experience?
I was so fed up of the huge taboo around this part of menopause, it’s brushed under the carpet. I have three daughters and a granddaughter, and I want the next generations going into it with the knowledge that I and previous generations did not have. It’s time to break the shame that surrounds this very common symptom of the menopause, and, with an ageing population, I believe more and more women will suffer from vaginal atrophy in the future.
You can read our review and purchase a copy of Jane’s book ‘Me & My Menopausal Vagina’ here.
About the Author
Jane Lewis is 52, married with three daughters and lives with her two dogs and husband in Northamptonshire. Jane was a florist but has had to give up her job due to her symptoms of vaginal atrophy.