The Part of Menopause Women Don't Talk About
For women going through menopause, the list of symptoms can be daunting – hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and headaches. And as if that weren’t enough, post-menopause, women are more likely to develop vulvovaginal atrophy, also known as VVA.
VVA is a condition caused by the natural reduction of hormones and the thinning and drying of vaginal tissues as women age. It’s estimated that by 2020, there will be 50,000,000 women going through menopause in the U.S. and as many as 20 to 45 percent may experience VVA. Despite the prevalence of the condition, many women are not aware VVA symptoms and menopause are connected. And doctors don’t always ask their patients about it.
“While many providers are comfortable treating the symptoms of VVA, many forget to ask women if they are experiencing the symptoms,” says Dr. Makeba Williams, an OBGYN at UW Health. “As a result, women don’t bring it up with their health care provider and just suffer silently.”
Symptoms of VVA include pain during sexual intercourse, dryness and itching of the vulva and vaginal region and sometimes soreness of the vagina or bleeding after intercourse. Unlike other menopausal symptoms, those of VVA are unlikely to resolve with time. Frequent sexual intercourse can improve symptoms by increasing blood flow to the area. Water-based lubricants may also help relieve discomfort. For women who are experiencing moderate to severe symptoms, prescription-based treatments are available including vaginal estrogen therapy or oral medication. However, some over-the-counter remedies may cause irritation, so it is very important to discuss treatment options with your health care provider.
Dr. Williams, the only UW Health OBGYN certified in the care and treatment of women in menopause, opened the UW Health Menopause Clinic to provide care and educational services to women over age 40 who are struggling with symptoms. The clinic employs a team-based approach. Dr. Williams and resident physicians work with a patient to design a treatment plan to meet each woman’s needs. A referral is not necessary.
“I’m a big proponent of education,” says Dr. Williams. “I want to help women know what to expect during the menopausal transition so she can get the help she needs, and so she can feel empowered during this time to make necessary lifestyle changes.”
Dr. Williams says she hopes the clinic will be a resource not only for menopausal women, but for other health care providers as well.
“We offer a level of expertise and certification that not everyone has. We’re even comfortable with complex scenarios where depression, diabetes or other conditions are intertwined with menopause,” she says. "Providers can refer more advanced cases to us; we want to be an educational resource for them too. We offer consultation that allows patients to continue their care with their primary provider.”
The UW Health Menopause Clinich is located at 1102 S. Park Street in Madison. For an appointment or consultation, call (608) 287-5898.
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Date Published: 01/17/2017