Q: It’s been a year since my last period and sex is so painful my partner and I have nearly given up. My doctor isn’t very helpful. What can I do?
A: Your problem is most likely due to vaginal atrophy (VA), which means the thinning and inflammation of the vaginal wall caused by a drop in oestrogen levels. Up to 45 per cent of postmenopausal women suffer from VA, according to a recent large-scale multinational study. It also found that 70 per cent of British women with VA avoided intimacy and over half said it had put them off sex altogether. Although it is so common, many women simply don’t know about VA and how it can be treated.
Symptoms of VA include vaginal dryness, soreness, itching and painful intercourse. ‘This is a huge problem that causes so much distress,’ says consultant gynaecologist Michael Dooley (thepoundbury clinic.co.uk). ‘The severe discomfort with intercourse can cause relationship problems.’
VA is also a common cause of postmenopausal bleeding, but it should be investigated as, in rare instances, it may be the first sign of uterine cancer.
An accurate diagnosis is essential. Some women and even doctors think the problem is due to thrush or lichen sclerosus (a vulval skin disorder, which causes itching and soreness).
Effective treatment is available. ‘Local oestrogen can make all the difference to a woman’s sex life,’ says Mr Dooley. After testing to exclude candida or bacterial infection, he prescribes a course of Vagifem, a vaginal tablet that releases a low dose of oestradiol into the vagina to rejuvenate it. (HRT can help if women are happy to take it.) Many women then only need to use local oestrogen (under medical supervision) twice a week, and some just need a lubricant. A reader emailed recently recommending Yes Organic Lubricant, £10.30, from Victoria Health. Sex is good for the vagina because it helps keep the muscles in shape.
Other treatments may help. Another reader, now 60, who had VA in her early 50s and had given up sex, found that taking a product containing Peruvian maca, plus a new partner and regular sex, had reversed the condition. Maca (lepidium meyenii) has been associated with improving fertility and sexual problems for centuries and some studies support this. Although experts agree that, on the basis of 2,000 years of traditional use, maca is probably safe, it is vital to check with your doctor first and take a good-quality supplement. Femergy by Better You contains Peruvian maca, Brazilian ginseng and ginkgo biloba, £10.25 for 60 vegicaps (from Victoria Health, as above).
A CALL FOR SAFER CHILDBIRTH
Group B strep (GBS), a normal bacterium carried by up to 30 per cent of adults, can be passed from mother to baby during labour. While it causes no problems for most babies, for others it can be deadly, resulting in blood infection, pneumonia and meningitis. The charity Group B Strep is calling for all pregnant woman in the UK to be given information about GBS and offered a test, and for mothers whose babies are at higher risk to be offered antibiotics in labour, as they are in most Western countries. The charity also gives information and support, plus details of private tests, which cost about £35 (tel: 0144 441 6176, gbss.org.uk).
THE SMARTY PANTS DIET
Were you to catch me doing my morning chores at home, your jaw might drop at the sight of my lower half clad in shocking pink ‘hot pants’ from waist to knee. Mock not! Come the party season, my LBD could be significantly smaller due to Zaggora HotPants, which are made with a fabric that raises your core body temperature by up to 18 per cent. That means your body uses more energy, burns more calories and loses weight. Colleagues who wear them to the gym evangelise about their slimming power. Zaggora HotPants 2.0 range, available in above- or below-the-knee or capri lengths, from £44.99, zaggora.com.
WEBSITE OF THE WEEK: spabreaks.com
A day or two of pampering at a spa can be a wonderful treat, especially for people going through treatment for cancer. But clients with cancer need sensitive and tailored programmes, and some spa facilities, including Jacuzzi, saunas and steam rooms, are not appropriate. Abi Wright, director of spabreaks.com, has worked with spas, including Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa in Surrey, right, to create Recovery Retreats, which offer luxurious and good-value packages specifically designed to suit people at different stages of cancer treatment. Tel: 0800 043 6600.