Over half of postmenopausal women suffer “down there” from similar symptoms, including painful sex, painful urination and increased urgency, and reoccurring urinary tract infections. But often times, women don’t know that these symptoms are related to one another, or that treatments are available.
The lack of understanding surrounding these symptoms is in part a problem of terminology; women and their gynecologists may not be talking about them because of a lack of clear, comfortable terminology to describe this group of symptoms.
Recognizing this absence, two leading health groups that focus on menopause and women’s health, the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH) and the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), have collaborated to create a term for women, their doctors, and the media to help identify and discuss these related symptoms.
The groups have released the term Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM) to describe the genital, sexual, and urinary symptoms that women may experience following menopause.
This term will replace the often misused and embarrassing terms atrophic vaginitis (which doctors currently use describe vaginal inflammation and infection) and vulvovaginal atrophy (which incorrectly suggests wasting away from disease).
Instead, GSM encompasses both the vaginal and urinary symptoms that can occur together following menopause in a term that may be more comfortable for both women and their gynecologists to use.
While women may not always consider their interconnectivity, the vagina, urethra and the bladder are all highly affected by the hormone estrogen. When a woman’s estrogen level drops during menopause, it can cause a variety of physical changes in these areas. Some of the common changes include:
- Thinning tissue
- Loss of elasticity
- Fewer blood vessels.
All of these factors combined can cause the urethra to be easily irritated and can lead to painful intercourse. While these symptoms can greatly interfere with a woman’s quality of life, they are treatable. Vaginal moisturizers, vaginal estrogen and oral estrogen can all help alleviate GSM in postmenopausal women.
The first step though is to ensure that women have the terminology to discuss these problems with their doctor.
The panel that created the term hopes that having an easy way for women and doctors to talk about these symptoms will allow for more recognition and treatment, in the same way that the term Erectile Dysfunction has allowed men and their doctors to more easily discuss and treat the problem formerly known as impotence.
The term will formally be introduced to the medical community in the October issue of NAMS’ journal, Menopause.
At Gainesville’s All About Women, our women’s health physicians and midwives welcome the new term GSM. We want all of the women we serve to be comfortable discussing health issues during and after menopause.
Next, consider scheduling an appointment with our Gainesville or Lake City office to start the discussion today.