Vaginal Discharge and Menopause

>> Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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Women get used to how our bodies function: when to expect our cycles, how much discharge we have, how discharge changes during the month - including its consistency and odor. So, if something changes, we are aware of it right away. Many woman come in to see me after being in menopause with no hormones for many years - so they have become used to vaginal dryness and lack of discharge. So it is alarming to them, or a bother to some, to wake up and see discharge on the toilet paper or in their panties. Women in menopause on hormones will have less dryness and more normal discharge.

Menopause brings hormonal imbalances that signal the end of fertility. Vaginal fluids decrease with the body’s loss of estrogen and progesterone (the two main female hormones that are produced by the ovaries). This decrease in hormones and vaginal discharge can make it extremely difficult to maintain a proper pH balance. The pH balance, as we have discussed in previous writings, is important to prevent vaginal odor, abnormal vaginal discharge, and yeast or bacterial infections. Lack of hormones can even cause an increase in bladder and kidney infections.

Where does discharge normally come from? There are mucus membranes in the vagina and cervix that create fluids daily. During sexual stimulation, breast-feeding, ovulation, and hormonal changes, vaginal discharge helps women to maintain reproductive health. Reproductive organs contain healthy bacteria, hormones, and acids that control the temperature, pH balance, and exact chemical environment for egg and sperm fertilization. Once menopause comes, a women's ovaries stop functioning normally and no longer make our female hormones and actually completely dry up. This causes our periods and ovulation to stop. Because we are no longer in need of this exact balance, the body’s chemistry changes abruptly.

Women can lose 80 to 90 percent of their estrogen and progesterone stores during menopause. These hormones control body temperature, mood, sleep patterns, energy levels, weight management, fluid maintenance, sex drive, and can cause bodily aches and pains. Vaginal discharge during this life change can exist alongside vaginal dryness. But, this vaginal discharge does not maintain moisture in the vagina. It is a chemical reaction resulting from shrinking vaginal walls and waning hormone levels - this is called atrophic vaginitis. Again, vaginal moisture and elasticity comes from hormone balance when our ovaries are functioning. Estrogen is the most important hormone in this process.

Of course, if the vaginal discharge during menopause is oddly colored, such as brown, light pink, or bloody, it can be a sign of other problems. This should definitely be checked out by your doctor, as it could be a sign of by polyps, fibroids, or even cancer.

No matter what, vaginal discharge is a normal process and women should avoid perfume sprays, powders, lotions, douching and other hygiene products, because they can create yeast and bacterial infections and lots of vaginal irritation. Let your vagina clean itself, as it is so good at doing. Use only mild soap on the outside around your vagina and labia and try WaterWorks if you have stubborn recurrent vaginal odor or just want to feel good about having a safe, FDA-cleared way of cleaning inside your vagina.
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