Menopause is a difficult time for women. Along with the physiological changes taking place in the body, menopause also embarks women on an emotional and psychological rollercoaster. Physical symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness end up making women miserable.
And to make matters worse, a new study published in the journal Menopause suggests that these postmenopausal vaginal changes of dryness, itching and pain during sex, may be more disruptive for those who are also suffering from depression or urinary incontinence.
Researchers from the University of California San Francisco interviewed 745 postmenopausal women with vaginal symptoms as part of a larger study on the impact of incontinence on reproductive health.
For depressed women, vaginal symptoms had an 11 to 22 percent greater impact on daily living, emotional wellbeing and body image than for women who weren’t depressed. Vaginal symptoms had a 27 to 37 percent bigger impact on women with urinary incontinence. “Because both of these conditions are relatively common, the take-home message for women and their clinicians is that depression and incontinence can be treated,” lead study author Mary Hunter, a women’s health care nurse practitioner at the University of California San Francisco, said by email.
Menopause & Depression: The Unknown Connection
Women are considered to be in menopause one full year after they stop menstruating, which typically happens between ages 45 and 55. As the ovaries curb production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone in the years leading up to menopause, and afterward, women can experience vaginal changes as well as symptoms ranging from irregular periods to mood swings and insomnia. About 14 percent of adults 65 and older experience depression, which is more prevalent in women than in men.
To understand how vaginal changes during menopause impact women’s lives, Hunter and colleagues analyzed results from detailed questionnaires participants completed about their sexual health in the previous four weeks. Almost 18 percent of participants took common drugs for depression, while 25 percent used estrogen treatments that can ease menopause symptoms.
The findings make a strong case for women to get treatment for depression and urinary incontinence to lessen the impact of vaginal symptoms on daily life, said Dr. James Pickar, an adjunct associate professor in obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center.
Women may consider options such as vaginal lubricants and moisturizers as well as oral, transdermal and vaginally delivered estrogen.