82 per cent of Canadian women agree that vaginal atrophy would have a negative impact on their life, including sexual intimacy, yet only seven per cent are aware of the condition
TORONTO-According to new data from the VIVA (Vaginal Health: Insights, Views & Attitudes) survey presented at the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) Annual Clinical Meeting, seventy-two per cent of Canadian women consider sexual intimacy as being the area of their life most likely to be affected by the symptoms of a chronic condition of menopause called vaginal atrophy or VA.1 Although approximately half of postmenopausal Canadian women experience symptoms of VA,2 the VIVA survey shows that many shy away from initiating discussions around vaginal health with their doctor, and often doctors are not proactively discussing it.3
Vaginal atrophy is a common, treatable condition where the vaginal walls become thin, fragile and inflamed due to a reduction of estrogen.4 Symptoms include: burning, itching, dryness, irritation and painful intercourse.5 These symptoms get worse over time – and yet no one is talking.
“Knowledge of vaginal atrophy is low in Canada and the symptoms can affect a woman’s overall health, sexual intimacy, relationships and self-confidence,” said Dr. Rossella Nappi, co-author of the VIVA Survey and Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Pavia in Italy. “We are calling on healthcare professionals to routinely raise the topic of vaginal health with their postmenopausal patients and to discuss appropriate treatment options to improve quality of life.”
In fact, guidelines from the SOGC, a leading authority on women’s health issues, state that doctors should routinely assess their patients for signs and symptoms of VA and discuss available treatment options.6
According to the VIVA findings few women are seeking medical assistance, and many are hesitant to talk to their doctor about vaginal health, either due to embarrassment, cultural values, or acceptance of such symptoms as an inevitable consequence of aging. One-third (32 per cent) of Canadian respondents who have suffered from VA waited more than a year before seeing a healthcare professional1A and over half (56 per cent) experienced symptoms for three years or longer.1B
“Vaginal atrophy is very common and can affect a woman’s quality of life, but unfortunately the VIVA results show women expressed that their healthcare provider had not raised the subject with them,” said Dr. Sheldon M. Frank, MD, medical director, Temple Green Clinic for menopausal women, Kitchener, Ontario, and certified NAMS practitioner. “Canadian healthcare providers have a key role to play in sparking the discussion, just as much as women. These discussions are imperative to help women understand VA so they can find a treatment option, such as low dose local estrogen therapy, to help their condition, rather than live with the symptoms and suffer in silence.”
Joan Boone’s Story – No More Suffering in Silence
Joan Boone, a Canadian Boomer who started experiencing vaginal symptoms at an early age, is one of many women who was embarrassed to speak to a doctor. Joan has boldly emerged from the shadows to shed light on VA, a condition which had once prevented her from enjoying life.
“For a long time I experienced symptoms of VA which made me very uncomfortable and prevented me from doing the things I love like swimming and cycling,” said Joan. “Symptoms affected my relationships, especially with my husband, and my life was coming to a halt. I finally spoke to my doctor and that’s the best decision I could have made. After receiving treatment, I felt renewed. I was in a better mood, my relationship with my husband was healthier and it improved my overall quality of life.”