Menopause is more than just hot flushes, night sweats and mood changes! Even though 50% of the population goes through menopause the majority of people and healthcare providers are under-informed about menopause and safe and effective treatments. Too many people are suffering unnecessarily. Perimenopause, the precursor to menopause begins in the 40’s for most people and most women will be in menopause by their early 50’s. Beyond the systemic symptoms of menopause people will start to experience more subtle genitourinary symptoms that will continue to worsen over time if untreated. Painful sex, urinary urgency, frequency, leaking and burning, recurrent vaginal and urinary tract infections and vaginal dryness are symptoms of the Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM). The symptoms of GSM are also symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, which almost 50% of women suffer by the time they are in their 50s.
Systemic menopause symptoms are often treated with systemic hormonal therapy. This may not be sufficient for people developing GSM symptoms. The North American Menopause Society recommends vaginal estrogen for women in menopause to help counter GSM symptoms.
GSM or Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction and GSM include:
- Urinary urgency, frequency, burning, nocturia
- Feelings of bladder or pelvic pressure
- Painful sex
- Diminished or absent orgasm
- Difficulty evacuating stool
- Vulvovaginal pain and burning
- Pain with sitting
An informed healthcare provider – whether a pelvic floor physical therapist or medical doctor – can do a vulvovaginal visual examination, a q-tip test to establish pain areas, and a digital manual examination to identify pelvic floor dysfunction, hormonal deficiencies, and pelvic organ prolapse. All women will experience GSM if enough time passes without appropriate medical management. The majority of people do not realize that menopausal women can benefit from a pelvic floor physical therapy examination to address the musculoskeletal factors that are also making them uncomfortable. The combination of pelvic floor physical therapy and medical management is key to help restore pleasurable sex and eliminate urinary and bowel concerns!
Why didn’t someone tell me?
We hear this question too frequently. First, the term GSM was not official until 2014. Leadership societies fought to help the medical community understand the genitourinary tract has its own hormonal needs. Pelvic floor physical therapy is on the rise, but there is still a lack of awareness and qualified providers to help suffering patients.
Accounts to follow:
- Rachel S. Rubin MD – Urologist & fellowship trained sexual medicine specialist
- Jill Krapf, MD MEd FACOG – Board-Certified OB/GYN, Vulvar Pain Specialist
- Kelly Casperson, MD – Urologist and Sexual Health Expert, Podcast Host and Author You are Not Broken
- Joshua R Gonzalez, MD – Board-certified urologist specializing in sexual health for all sexes & gender identities.
Hormone insufficiency can result in interlabial and vaginal itching. Other dermatologic issues such as Lichen Sclerosus and cutaneous yeast infections are just two of the many factors to also be considered.
Unfortunately people are vulnerable to recurrent vaginal and urinary tract infections in menopause due to:
- pH and tissue changes
- incomplete bladder emptying
- pelvic organ prolapse compromising urinary function
Recurrent infections are a leading cause of pelvic floor dysfunction! They must be stopped or the noxious visceral-somatic input can cause further pain and dysfunction after the infection is cleared. Furthermore, if the infections are left untreated without hormone therapy infections continue to occur and the consequences can be severe. Women can develop unprovoked pain, sex may be impossible, and undetected UTIs can lead to kidney problems and more sinister issues.
We encourage people to work with a menopause expert to monitor, prevent, and treat these issues as they are serious and treatable! We need to normalize the conversation about what happens during GSM, it is nothing to be embarrassed about and with the right care vulva owners can live their best lives! Pelvic floor physical therapy and medical management go hand in hand.
How We Can Help You
If you are having issues with your sexual function, it is in your best interest to get evaluated by a therapist for pelvic floor therapy, so they can establish what part, if any, of your pelvic floor may be contributing to the symptoms you are experiencing. During the course of the examination, the physical therapist will talk to you about your medical history and symptoms, including what you have been previously diagnosed with, the treatments or therapies you have had, and how effective or ineffective these therapies have been for you. It is significant to mention that we fully comprehend what you’ve been dealing with and that the majority of individuals are angry by the time they make it to see us. The physical therapist will conduct an evaluation of the patient’s nerves, muscles, joints, tissues, and movement patterns while doing the physical examination. After the examination is finished, your therapist will go over the results of the assessment with you. The physical therapist will conduct an evaluation to determine the cause of your symptoms and will establish both short-term and long-term therapy goals based on the results of the evaluation. Physical therapy treatments are typically administered between once and twice each week for a period of around 12 weeks. Your physical therapist will assist you in coordinating your recovery with all the other experts on your treatment team. They will provide you with an exercise regimen to complete at home and the sessions you attend in person. We are here to assist you in getting better and living the best life possible.
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How We Can Help You