Living with vaginal atrophy

Vaginal Atrophy is one of the biggest taboos around perimenopause and menopause. We asked Jane Lewis, author of the ground-breaking book Me & My Menopausal Vagina, to explain this painful and sometimes debilitating condition.

Vaginal atrophy is one of the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause and occurs when hormone levels in the body start to decrease.

Vaginal atrophy can be extremely painful and can impact day-to-day life, such as the ability to wear certain clothes, enjoy hobbies and interests, attend gynaecology appointments (such as smear tests) without pain, and can often make it impossible to enjoy intimacy with a partner.

Jane Lewis is the author of 'Me and My menopausal vaginal', and in this article, she explains how vaginal atrophy has affected her life.

To find out more about the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, explore our menopause resource area.

Over to you, Jane...

Vaginal Atrophy

What’s the problem?

I suffer with everything that vaginal atrophy has to offer (lucky me and you if you’re the same… perhaps not!).

Related: Watch Jane share what it's like to live with vaginal atrophy in menopause and how she manages this painful symptom:

How I cope with Vaginal Atrophy - Jane Lewis, author of 'Me & My Menopausal Vagina'

What is vaginal atrophy / dryness and how can it impact your day-to-day-life? We speak to Jane Lewis, author of 'Me and my menopausal vagina' about this painful and sometimes debilitating symptom of perimenopause and menopause. Jane joined The Latte Lounge as part of World Menopause Awareness Month 2020.

What are the symptoms of vaginal atrophy?

Sex is simply too painful. I have a burning sore vulva, my vestibule area can especially feel irritated, and I am aware of my bladder a lot of the time. I am not as bad as I was, and although I have all these symptoms still, I somehow manage to keep them contained.

Some ladies have intense itching in the vulva area, but so far, that has not been a main problem for me… although I do get it sometimes. I used to get stabbing pains in my vagina, but these, too, are also as good as gone. This progress is simply due to women’s health physiotherapy, local oestrogen and HRT.

Related: Find a women's health physiotherapist to help with your symptoms.

In 2014 vaginal atrophy was renamed to “genitourinary symptoms of menopause “ or GSM.

This basically means the whole of the urinary and genital area, which is very oestrogen dependent, starts to dry, and the skin becomes thinner and weaker, which leaves it open to infection and irritation.

This condition can also have a big impact on the bladder, and this is why women are more prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) at this time of life. As mentioned before, itching is also a big problem for many ladies.

I must say that, at this point, there are other vulva conditions that have very similar symptoms to vaginal atrophy that are potentially far more serious. These are lichen sclerosus and vulva cancer, and other conditions also, so please always get checked by a professional.

What can be done to help with vaginal atrophy?

I use local oestrogen, and I use body-identical HRT.

There are four types of local oestrogen available in the UK, two creams ovestin and estriol, vagifem and the estring which stays in the vagina 24/7 for 90 days. I also use a moisturiser every other evening in the vagina, opposite nights to the vagifem.

Twice a day I use an oil-based, breathable cream 100% natural no nasties that I rub onto my perineum and into the vestibule.

Where to go to get help

It is so important not to self-treat initially. The first point of call should always be a visit to your GP. If you are not happy with their diagnosis or if there has been no improvement, then a vulva dermatologist will really understand this area of our bodies as they look at vulvas day in and day out.. so do not be embarrassed.

The biggest message I give to ladies is; Get the mirror out, touch and examine your vulva… Get to know it well.

We are breast aware, so we must become vulva aware. We must also educate our daughters so that their generation is not so unprepared.

Menopause can and does pull relationships apart. We are living potentially 30 years longer than previous generations, so our urogenital and pelvic floors can be really affected.

Talk to your partners; we can have really good sex lives without penetration.

Related: Watch GP Nighat Arif explain the symptoms of vaginal atrophy and how to manage uncomfortable sex.

About Jane Lewis:

My name is Jane; I am 52 years of age, married with 3 daughters, a Granddaughter and my two dogs, Bertie and Bonnie, and I live in Northamptonshire. I used to love horse riding, but vaginal atrophy stopped that; I rather enjoyed sex also, but vaginal atrophy put paid to that; going to the cinema sitting down for too long is not done anymore with ease but rather with a “how long can I tolerate this for."

Jane's book, 'My Menopausal Vagina' is available to purchase on her website. It's also one of our top-recommended books on menopause.

Find out more: Learn more about perimenopause and menopause in our resources area.


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