This study aimed to examine factors other than estrogen deficiency influencing the development and persistence of vaginal dryness, itching, and painful sexual intercourse after menopause.
We analyzed data from a 2-year, population-based cohort of 1,017 postmenopausal women aged 55 to 75 years. Vaginal symptoms were assessed by interviewer-administered questionnaire, and vaginal swabs were performed to assess vaginal pH and microbial flora at baseline, 12 months, and 24 months. Generalized estimating equations were used to identify characteristics associated with symptoms.
Half of the women (n = 471) reported problematic vaginal dryness, a third (n = 316) reported itching, and 40% of sexually active women (n = 166) reported painful intercourse at baseline. Of women not taking estrogen, half of those reporting baseline symptoms were symptomatic after 24 months. Vaginal dryness was associated with younger age (odds ratio [OR], 0.81; 95% CI, 0.69–0.94, per 5-y increase), nonwhite race (ie, African American, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, or American Indian [OR, 1.53; 95% CI, 1.04–2.27]), diabetes (OR, 1.51; 95% CI, 1.07–2.12), lower 36-item Short-Form Health Survey physical functioning scores (OR, 0.90; 95% CI, 0.85–0.97, per 10-point increase), lower body mass index (OR, 0.81; 95% CI, 0.71–0.93, per 5 kg/m2 increase), recent sexual activity (OR, 1.14; 95% CI, 1.08–1.21), and vaginal colonization with enterococci (OR, 1.25; 95% CI, 1.04–1.51). Vaginal itching was also associated with lower physical functioning scores (OR, 0.86; 95% CI, 0.80–0.92, per 10-point increase). Risk factors for painful intercourse included younger age (OR, 0.72; 95% CI, 0.56–0.93, per 5-y increase), diabetes (OR, 3.48; 95% CI, 1.93–6.27), lower body mass index (OR, 0.76; 95%CI, 0.61–0.95, per 5 kg/m2 increase), and higher vaginal pH (OR, 1.10; 95% CI, 1.00–1.21, per 0.5 units).
Vaginal symptoms affect a large proportion of postmenopausal women, particularly those with diabetes and those with lower body mass index, but may resolve for up to half of women without estrogen therapy.