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A typical morning in 2008

Like I did most mornings, I grabbed a shirt from the closet, but something was different when I started to button it. The shirt was tighter around my midriff. It seemed so odd because it was the same shirt I’d worn for a couple of years, and it always fit just fine, maybe even a little loosely. I wasn’t eating differently, so my diet couldn’t be the reason. I wore it anyway, and went about my business.

The following morning the same thing happened with a different shirt, and then with most everything in my closet over the next few weeks. I was definitely getting ‘thicker’ around the middle, where I’d always been slender. My goodness, I’ve developed midriff bulge, I quietly groaned.

That was only the start. My once thick, curly hair became thinner; I even had a bald spot right near the front, which was more disconcerting than my expanding midriff. My breasts, always pretty small, got larger and seemed to be drooping. My relatively flat tummy was flat no more. Jowls appeared. And, to make matters about as yucky as they could be, my vagina was dry. So dry, sex became an ordeal I preferred to avoid.

Frankly, it wasn’t until my bone density decreased, my ‘bad’ cholesterol increased, and I could swear I had a hot flash, that I put 2+2 together to come up with the answer to my numerous physical maladies: M-E-N-O-P-A-U-S-E. I had stopped taking the estrogen pill a few months back, after being on it since my hysterectomy in 1991, so that obviously was the cause for my deteriorating physical state. After experiencing another hot flash attack I thought this is definitely not for me, and practically sprinted to the drugstore to refill my estrogen prescription.

My menopause education kicked into high gear after launching FabOverFifty in early 2010, and I haven’t stopped learning ever since. Luckily for the over 2 million women who enter menopause each year (according to NAMS, the North American Menopause Society), many options are available to treat their symptoms, which can completely disrupt a woman’s active life! We receive news of exciting new products practically every month, from dietary supplements and ‘air conditioned’ bedding for hot flashes, to estrogen and non-estrogen treatments to alleviate, and even reverse, vaginal atrophy.

But, the first step for any of you who start to notice changes in your bodies, even subtle changes, is to confront them as soon as possible. Start by talking to your friends, talking to your husband, or talking to your doctor, but for goodness sakes, talk to someone, because ignoring these changes won’t make them disappear on their own. Granted, the subject of a dry vagina wouldn’t be anyone’s idea of exciting conversation, but you’ll certainly be excited when you do something to hydrate it and make yourself feel comfortable again. Here’s what you should know, right off the bat:
1. Some treatments are quick, easy and inexpensive, such as moisturizing lotions you can take into the shower with you. They’re “absorbed into the skin and cling to the vaginal lining in a way that mimics natural secretions,” reports NAMS. “Another difference is that moisturizers are applied regularly, not just before sex, and their effects are more long-term, lasting up to three or four days.”
2. Vaginal lubricants are designed to only provide temporary relief from vaginal dryness and related pain during sex, because they are not absorbed into the skin. They come in liquid or gel form and can be water, oil or silicone based. It’s important to research the pros and cons of each formula.
3. Estrogen treatments can be local (they work only on your vaginal tissue and vulva, and are in the form of a cream, ring or tablet), or systemic (the estrogen enters your bloodstream either by a pill taken orally or a patch applied to the skin). Unfortunately, many women–and doctors–have gross misconceptions about estrogen, so you definitely will want to do your homework to know whether it’s the right approach for you.
You can start by reading my interview with Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, one of the smartest doctors in the women’s health field. After seeing her about eight months ago, I began on the estrogen patch, which has had positive effects on my vaginal atrophy, as well as on my lipid levels and thinning hair. Besides using the patch, I apply a moisturizing lotion to my vaginal tissue every time I shower. Soap, by the way, is a big no no, even if you’re years away from menopause!

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