Information on Menopause/Vulvar and Vaginal Atrophy (VVA)
Menopause is a time when your menstrual periods stop and other important changes in your body occur. Your health care professional (doctor, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant or nurse) may not know for sure if you are in menopause until a full 12 months have passed since your last period.
Menopause can be induced through a medical intervention, such as a hysterectomy with removal of the ovaries, or it can happen naturally. Natural menopause occurs at the time of your final menstrual period when your ovaries stop producing estrogen. Menopause is marked by 12 consecutive months without a period, after which point you are considered postmenopausal. Even though menopause begins at a different time for every woman, the average age for women to experience this transition is between the ages 40 and 61. Of course, menopause can occur earlier or later, but the average age is 51.
For some women, menopause is an easy transition into the next phase of their lives. However, for women experiencing moderate to severe symptoms, menopause can affect their day to day activities.
Women transitioning through menopause may experience a variety of symptoms, which can include hot flashes, night sweats, vulvar and vaginal atrophy (when the vaginal walls become thinner and less lubricated), and sleep disturbances leading to fatigue and irritability. Additionally, vaginal changes that may result from menopause – such as vaginal dryness, itching, and burning in and around the vagina – may make sexual intercourse difficult or even painful for some women.
Data from the REVEAL Surveys, market research surveys designed to gain a more thorough understanding of the sexual and vaginal health of postmenopausal Boomer women, show that most postmenopausal women surveyed have heard of the traditional symptoms related to menopause, but fewer have heard of the vulvar and vaginal symptoms associated with menopause. Furthermore, many of the women surveyed did not associate vulvar/vaginal pain and physical discomfort during sexual activity with menopause.
More About the Vaginal Symptoms Associated With Menopause
At menopause, women stop producing as much of the hormone estrogen as they did before. When estrogen levels begin dropping, vaginal walls become thinner and less lubricated, which can result in changes that can include irritation, dryness, itching, burning, and pain during sex (a condition known as dyspareunia). These vaginal symptoms may cause considerable discomfort.
Dyspareunia, or pain experienced during sex, is one of the most bothersome symptoms of vulvar and vaginal atrophy. Dyspareunia typically does not subside without treatment.
Talking With Your Health Care Professional
Whether you have reached the menopausal transition naturally or it has occurred due to surgery, changes in your body's levels of estrogen can result in a variety of physical symptoms. Remember: Every woman experiences menopause differently, so talk with your health care professional about any symptoms you may be having. If you are experiencing vaginal symptoms of menopause, including vaginal dryness and pain during sex, ask your health care professional if there is a treatment option that may be right for you.