Man, just when we thought saying, "adios" to our period was starting to sound better and better, we get hit in the face with a hard dose of reality about vaginal issues that start popping up when we get older.
As we age, pregnancy, lifestyle and hormonal changes affect our skin, hair and — yes — even our vaginas. But at least we don't have to suffer alone in silence — most feminine issues associated with menopause and perimenopause are totally common. Here are some tips to help deal.
As we age, the delicate tissue around our urethra (the tube from the bladder to the outside that carries urine) becomes thinner and more sensitive. This can happen because of changes in our hormone levels and make the body more susceptible to urinary tract infections. Staying well-hydrated, following the age-old advice of front-to-back wiping and urinating after intercourse can help you avoid those pesky UTIs.
Over time, post-pregnancy and perimenopause affect estrogen levels. As we age, our estrogen levels begin to decline, leading to an increase in vaginal dryness and a loss of elasticity of vaginal tissue. For some women, this dryness can lead to irritation and even discomfort in public settings. If you're suffering from this, you are absolutely not alone.
Our lady parts or reproductive structures are held in place by a group of muscles and tendons known as the pelvic floor. As we age, go through childbirth, experience changes in our weight and even regularly participate in high-impact workouts, these muscles sag and give us a feeling of bulging or heaviness. This is also what may lead to urine leakage when we cough or sneeze. The best remedy for this is the good ol’ Kegels. This exercise helps to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and tightens the muscle fibers, helping to create more stability and strength. If you find that you are regularly doing Kegels and this area is still impacted, speak with your physician about other options. You may be a candidate for a supportive device or require a procedure.
These are not necessarily the type of infections you are thinking. When levels of estrogen and progesterone shift and eventually decrease (usually in our 30s and 40s), the pH levels and tissue thickness change in the vaginal canal and around the vaginal opening. This change makes us more susceptible to infections like bacterial vaginosis, which can cause a sour odor and white discharge. This is not a sexually transmitted infection; however, it can be a pesky irritation. Adding a moisturizer or lubricant and quickly removing sweaty clothes post-exercise can help. Although yeast infection incidence does not necessarily go up as we age, protecting the vagina from this annoying itch is also important. You can do this by regularly eating yogurt or taking a probiotic supplement and sticking to those cotton undies.
If you notice any symptoms that are not improving, schedule a visit with your physician. She can help determine what is causing your discomfort and offer you a variety of solutions that might be quicker and easier than you think.
Originally published August 2016. Updated April 2017.
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