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Practical Aspects in the Management of Vaginal Atrophy and Sexual Dysfunction in Perimenopausal and Postmenopausal Women

Authors


Irwin Goldstein, MD, 85 Old Farm Road, Milton, MA 02186, USA. Tel: (617) 698-8928; Fax: (617) 698-5630; E-mail: irwingoldstein@comcast.net

ABSTRACT

Introduction.  The decline in circulating estrogen levels in peri- and postmenopause has a wide range of physiological effects, including atrophy of tissues in the urogenital tract. Vaginal atrophy is an important contributor to postmenopausal sexual dysfunction.

Aim.  To provide a framework for clinical evaluation and clinical management of sexual dysfunction secondary to vaginal atrophy.

Method.  Conduct a brief overview of literature on evaluation and treatment of vaginal atrophy, augmented with the authors’ clinical observations and experience.

Results.  Estrogen decline disrupts many physiological responses characteristic of sexual arousal, including smooth muscle relaxation, vasocongestion, and vaginal lubrication; genital tissues depend on continued estrogen and androgen stimulation for normal function. An upward shift in vaginal pH as the result of vaginal atrophy alters the normal vaginal flora. Reduced lubrication capability and reduced tissue elasticity, in addition to shortening and narrowing of the vaginal vault, can lead to painful and/or unpleasant intercourse. At the same time, diminished sensory response may reduce orgasmic intensity. Other contributors to peri- and postmenopausal sexual dysfunction include reduced androgen levels, aging of multiple body systems, and side-effects of medications. Workup of sexual health problems starts by taking a comprehensive sexual, medical, and psychosocial history, followed by complete physical examination and laboratory evaluation. Clinical management includes measures to preserve and enhance overall health, adjustment of medication regimes to reduce or avoid side-effects, and topical or systemic hormone supplementation with estrogens and/or androgens.

Conclusions.  No single therapeutic approach is appropriate for every woman with peri- or postmenopausal sexual dysfunction; instead, treatment should be based on a comprehensive evaluation and consideration of medical and psychosocial contributors to the individual's dysfunction. Further research is required to establish optimal regimens of hormonal and nonhormonal agents, including dosages/dosage forms and duration of treatment, for specific subtypes of sexual dysfunction. Goldstein I, and Alexander JL. Practical aspects in the management of vaginal atrophy and sexual dysfunction in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. J Sex Med 2005;2(suppl 3):154–165.

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