Let’s talk vaginas!
Ah, what a topic you’re probably thinking, but vaginal and urinary symptoms are some of the most common symptoms of the menopause. These are also classed as some of the long term symptoms, so, even if you’re not experiencing symptoms ‘down there’ it’s never too early to learn how to cope with these symptoms should they start to appear.
Vlog coming very soon!
I often say to people ‘Love your vagina’…make sure you pay it as much attention as other areas of your body! Just because we can’t easily see it…unless we contort ourselves into awkward positions using mirrors…it doesn’t mean to say we don’t need to keep an eye on it (and the vulva). At the end of the day you only get one, so you may as well look after it. So, do have a wee peek now and then! Like any part of your body, as you age, it will change in appearance but it’s important to look out for changes which may indicate that a little attention is required.
Which bits are the Vulva?
Can I just rewind there a minute and check that everyone knows which bits are the vulva, some women I talk to are a little…how shall I put it…hazy! Your vulva includes the outer bits of your genitals, these include the opening of your vagina, your labia (commonly known as lips), the clitoris and the two glands either side of the vagina which provide lubrication for the vagina, the Bartholin glands (before you start looking for them most of the time you can’t see or feel these!)
What is vaginal atrophy…
Basically declining levels of oestrogen causes the supporting tissues plus the skin of your vagina and vulva to become thinner and less elastic. Sounds awful doesn’t it, but fear not there are ways to replenish those tissues!
Symptoms include vaginal irritation, dryness and soreness…all extremely common and shouldn’t be ignored.
It always amazes me how many symptoms women are prepared to put up with because they either think it’s the norm, never find the time to go and see their GP, or don’t feel comfortable going to their GP. Please never feel embarrassed going to see your GP or your practice nurse, they will have seen so many vaginas and bottoms throughout their working lives…at the end of the day it’s part of their job!
A good starting point, if you have started to experience dryness and soreness, is to look into using a vaginal, moisturising lubricant. This helps to moisturise the area internally and externally and can really help if it’s becoming uncomfortable whilst having sex. The only problem being the enormous range on the market…so which one to choose? Well, it’s a case of finding one that suits your individual physiology which might require a bit of trial and error. What suits one woman might not suit another. One company I can recommend who supply a great product is Sylk. You can buy it yourself on line or it’s prescribable and is now available in Boots. It’s paraben free and hormonal free and you can use it as often or as little as needed. Do persevere though it might just take a while to find one you like.
Declining levels of oestrogen can also affect the ph levels in you vagina which means you might become more prone to infections. Always find out if it’s a bacterial infection or a fungal infection rather then immediately self medicating.
Still Experiencing Problems?
If you are really having problems with vaginal symptoms please go and see your GP/HCP and think about having vaginal oestrogen prescribed. This is localised treatment so, goes directly to the area where it is needed, has very good results in the majority of cases and is a simple way of replenishing those diminishing levels of oestrogen. It helps not only the vaginal symptoms but can have beneficial effects with urinary leakage and frequency as well…more on those problems later. Vaginal oestrogen is available in different forms as in pessaries, cream or a vagina ring so make sure you have a discussion with your HCP as to which way you would prefer trying it.
Top tips for a healthy vaginal and vulva… Top tips for a healthy vaginal and vulva…
- Firstly the vagina is self cleaning so please don’t start popping things like douches up there!
- Avoid heavily perfumed shower gels and if having problems try using an emollient shower gel like dermal 200. Emollients hydrate and soothe damaged skin and help to trap in moisture.
- Always wear natural fibers
- Avoid wearing tight clothing
- Make sure you have the odd peek to check everything looks healthy. Look out for discoloured patches, if anything looks odd or you’re having abnormal/different discharge or bleeding then go and get it checked out.
- ind a moisturising lubricant which suits you. This helps not only to moisturise and hydrate but is obviously lubricating which is essential if it’s uncomfortable having sex.
- Consider having vaginal oestrogen prescribed.
Can I just touch on this subject as so many women have problems in this area and again it’s one of those topics we generally don’t start talking about when out for coffee!
But, because we don’t talk about it most women think it’s the norm that after children and as they get older they will have urinary leakage and frequency…eer no!
We all have a pelvic floor (men included) and without getting too technical its a group of muscles which forms the floor of your pelvis. These are muscles which a vast amount of the population forget to exercise, but, maybe again that’s because we can’t see them?
Firstly everyone should learn how to do a proper pelvic floor exercise and should do exercises once a day. Oh yes…you too!
A fabulous app which you can download is called ‘Squeezy’ this not only tells you all about the pelvic floor but gives you timed exercises and reminders – how fabulous is that! It’s been created by physiotherapists specialising in women health so they really know what they are talking about.
If you have a problem in this area you should be doing these exercises three times a day and if you continue to have problems with leakage or frequency then please go and see your GP, get referred to a physiotherapist who specialises in women’s health and they will be able to help you.
It’s NEVER too late to start, as with exercising any muscle of your body it needs a bit of attention and exercise.
There you have a whistle stop guide for a healthy vagina…now off you go and have a peek!
'As with any information developed for Fountain Retreats the information in this post is accurate at time of posting and is for information purposes only. It is not intended to replace or substitute the judgement of any medical professional you may come in contact with. You should always seek advice from your health care professional regarding a medical condition’
About the author...
Author, Qualified Nurse
Ruth is a qualified nurse, gaining her registration and working at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
She is passionate about providing women and employers with evidence based information and support, helping women to make informed decisions about how to manage their menopause and so improve their quality of life.
She has been asked to contribute on several occasions on various media platforms including, Radio 4s Woman’s hour, BBC Radio Scotland, Radio Borders, the BBC Insiders Guide to the Menopause documentary with Kirsty Wark and BBC breakfast.
Ruth is married with three children, three dogs and a cat, loves cycling, playing netball and tennis, spending time with family and friends and has a great sense of humour.
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