Oestrogen eases discomfort

Tablets containing low-dose oestrogen can help ease the vaginal discomfort that often comes with menopause, a study shows.

After women go through menopause, declining oestrogen levels cause a gradual thinning in the tissue of the vagina. This can lead to inflammation known as atrophic vaginitis, which causes symptoms such as dryness, irritation and pain during sex.

Oestrogen replacement is one therapy for the condition, but because of the health risks of oral hormone replacement, many women want an alternative. One alternative is oestrogen-containing tablets that are inserted directly into the vagina, which limits the risk of side effects.

For the new study, researchers looked at the effectiveness of vaginal tablets containing low-dose oestrogen - either 10 or 25 micrograms of a form of the hormone called estradiol.

How the study was done
They randomly assigned 230 postmenopausal women to use the higher- or lower-dose oestrogen tablet or a placebo (inactive) tablet twice a week for 12 weeks. After that, all study participants were given the option of continuing on the higher oestrogen dose for a year.

In the first phase of the study, both oestrogen doses improved symptoms of vaginal dryness, irritation and discomfort, the researchers report in the journal Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The benefits tended to be greater, however, with the higher dose.

Moreover, of the women who continued with the therapy, the overall improvements were still apparent at the one-year mark, according to the researchers, led by Dr Gloria Bachmann of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in New Brunswick.

No serious side effects found
The researchers found no serious side effects during the year-long follow-up. Side effects possibly related to the oestrogen treatment included headache, back pain and abdominal pain, which have been seen in other studies.

The findings, according to Bachmann's team, suggest that low-dose vaginal oestrogen can safely ease symptoms of atrophic vaginitis over the long term.

The study received funding from Novo Nordisk, a Denmark-based pharmaceutical company that makes the oestrogen tablets used in the study. – (ReutersHealth)

Read more:
Vaginal dryness: The facts

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