Catherine Parsons was in her mid-50s when she began to experience symptoms of menopause, and it was not a pleasant experience.
“Even as a nurse, the symptom basically that I had, I had never heard of before,” she said.
Now Parsons is speaking about her experience hoping others will choose not to suffer silently when faced with vaginal atrophy.
Estrogen is a hormone essential to the female reproductive system. Amongst other attributes, it keeps skin and tissue around the vagina moist and lubricated. When menopause hits, levels decline.
In addition to impacting a woman’s ability to have children, menopause can result in the vagina becoming drier and less elastic. Vaginal atrophy affects approximately 57 per cent of women at some point in their lives and can complicate a woman’s sex life if not treated.
“The problems that you would have with vaginal atrophy is you can have painful intercourse, bleeding after intercourse ... or you think you always have a urinary tract infection,” explains Parsons, a registered nurse based in St. John’s.
According to the SIGMA Canadian Menopause Society, vaginal atrophy can create emotional distress and lead to strained relationships.
Women may avoid having sex altogether — a decision that has the potential to make the initial problem even worse.
“I didn’t know anybody who ever mentioned it to me,” Parsons said when reflecting on her own experience.
It took a year for Parsons to see her doctor and talk about her situation. A Pap test determined she had vaginal atrophy.
There are a number of treatment options available. Moisturizers or water-based lubricants can be used. A woman may look to get a prescription form of estrogen if those measures do not get results.
Approximately 20-25 per cent of women with vaginal atrophy seek treatment, according to the SIGMA Canadian Menopause Society.
“My own personal feeling is that a lot of marriages break up around this time, and some people think it’s because the men are looking for younger women.
“I think it’s basically because there’s this problem that no one is talking about.”
Parsons is determined to make sure people she knows are aware of vaginal atrophy. She’s shared pamphlets with friends and family and encourages women to talk with their doctors, partners and other women.