Today, we’re talking about a part of menopause many people don’t know about called genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM). Aka dry vagina! In 2014, the terms vaginal dryness and vulvovaginal atrophy or atrophic vaginitis were changed to GSM to make it short and simple.
To help explain GSM, we’re leaning on the knowledge of Dr. Rachel Rubin, a top-notch urologist and one of only a handful of physicians with fellowship training in sexual health for all genders. In addition, she is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Dept of Urology at MedStar Georgetown University and a Clinical Instructor in Dept of Urology at George Washington University. Basically, she is a women’s health rock star!
GSM is Bigger Than Vaginal Dryness
“Vaginal dryness is a big problem. Really big,” says Dr. Rubin.
Dr. Rubin breaks it down. First and foremost, she says that GSM causes more than just dryness. It can make sex hurt, reduce the pleasure of orgasms, and bring other annoying symptoms like itching, burning, and stinging down there. Unlike hot flashes, which tend to go away, GSM does not.
“It’s not just a little vaginal dryness. It turns out that all of the genital and urinary symptoms from menopause just get worse over time. The bladder, the urethra, and the vagina have lots of hormone receptors, including estrogen and testosterone. When the body no longer makes those hormones, the system doesn’t work very well, and genital and urinary symptoms occur that just get worse over time without treatment.”
The Sneaky Problem: Repeat UTIs
Dr. Rubin points out a scary link between GSM and getting urinary tract infections (UTIs) again and again. She shares, “The thing that kills women is recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs). Did you know that UTIs account for 7 million visits and hospitalizations annually and 25% of all infections in older people? In fact, a significant amount of medicare dollars are spent treating UTIs. Not preventing UTIs is costing our healthcare system an enormous amount of money and resources.”
That’s a lot of pain and cost!
Good News: There Are Ways to Treat GSM
According to Dr. Rubin, we’ve had safe and effective vaginal hormone treatment options for GSM since the 1970s, but healthcare professionals have been using them only for pain with sex and not for GSM. Dr. Rubin further explained, “In fact, data show that by using vaginal hormones, we can prevent UTIs by more than 50%. We can save lives using safe, effective, local, low-dose vaginal hormone strategies. And they are safe and effective for all of our patients in pre- and post-menopause.”
Unfortunately, fewer than 6% of women with GSM symptoms are being treated. Listen up ladies: Time to become your own health advocate! You do not have to suffer in silence.
There are five different treatment options: vaginal estrogen inserts, vaginal estrogen creams, vaginal dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), low-dose vaginal estrogen rings, and an oral pill option called ospemifene (Osphena). All are used to treat GSM – however, you must use them regularly. She reiterated that these treatments are “safe and they work.”
A Heartfelt Note to My Readers
Just like you’d look up the best way to cook your holiday meals, spend some time learning about GSM. If you or a friend are dealing with these symptoms, make an appointment with your menopause specialist or a urologist. Discuss the options above and get the help you need and deserve!
As we wrap things up and you’re getting ready for the holidays, thinking about juicy pies, flavorful stuffing, and a tender turkey, remember to think about your health too. We all want our holiday food to be just right, and in the same way, we should want our health to be in tip-top shape.
Let’s aim for a happy, plump, moist holiday in every way!
P.S. If you have a recipe for a fail-proof moist turkey— please share.
My Motto: Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!
If you want to educate your employees, colleagues, or friends about menopause, look no further! Book Ellen for your next event.
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*EllenDolgen.com does not recommend, endorse, or make any representation about any tests, studies, practices, procedures, treatments, services, opinions, healthcare providers, physicians, or medical institutions that may be mentioned or referenced.