Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Anywhere between 6-12% of individuals with a uterus who are of childbearing age will develop Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS. The symptoms associated with PCOS are caused by a hormonal imbalance–your body starts producing too much of some hormones and not enough of others. While the underlying and root cause of this imbalance is not well understood, PCOS symptoms can be successfully managed and several therapeutic approaches exist.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome can cause complications throughout your body, including infertility and obesity. If you think you might have PCOS, you can work with your OBGYN or Midwife to develop a treatment plan and find strategies that help you successfully manage your condition.

What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?

For most menstruating individuals, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome develops around puberty. This usually occurs around the time when you have your first period.  Diagnosing PCOS can be tricky as it is not uncommon for menstrual periods to be somewhat irregular for the first 2-3 years after you have your first menarche (first period).  For others, symptoms may develop later in life, sometimes in response to weight gain. Most people don’t know they have PCOS until they visit their doctor. This usually occurs during their 20s or 30s when they have trouble becoming pregnant.

The most common symptoms of PCOS include the following:

  • Weight gain: In approximately half of cases, polycystic ovary syndrome can cause obesity.  However, individuals of normal weight can also have PCOS.
  • Acne: Acne may be more widespread and persistent than expected. Often resistant to treatment. 
  • Hair growth: As the hormone androgen rises throughout your body, you may notice that you start growing significantly more facial and body hair on your chin, neck, back, chest, breasts or abdomen. 
  • Polycystic ovaries: Sometimes the ovaries can appear to have many small follicles or cysts noted on transvaginal ultrasound.  However, this can also be a nonspecific finding and without the presence of other symptoms, may not be suggestive of PCOS.
  • Your periods become irregular: As your hormone levels fluctuate, your periods may become sporadic – sometimes months without periods and sometimes periods that happen too often. It’s not unusual for those with PCOS to have only 9 periods per year, for example.
  • Darkening of skin: Some people who develop PCOS may also notice a darkening of their skin called acanthosis nigricans. This may occur broadly or in patches. 
  • Skin tags: Also known as acrochordons, these are small areas of excess skin that may develop and often around the area of darkening skin.

Only your doctor can diagnose polycystic ovary syndrome. But if you’re experiencing multiple symptoms as noted above, it’s worth bringing your concerns to the attention of your OBGYN or Midwife.

Can PCOS Cause Complications?

Over the long term, PCOS can cause complications in a variety of ways. Some of the most common are the following:

  • Metabolic syndrome or prediabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes, often linked with PCOS-caused weight gain
  • Depression
  • Liver inflammation
  • Infertility
  • Abnormal uterine bleeding
  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Gestational diabetes

In general, those with PCOS may experience trouble becoming pregnant. That’s because the hormone imbalance may sometimes interfere with ovulation–and if there’s no egg to become fertilized, one cannot conceive. 

Additionally, you may experience metabolic complications due to your PCOS. This could increase your overall risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

None of these complications are inevitable. There is a great deal of variability in terms of who experiences complications and who does not. The best way to avoid complications is to work closely with your OBGYN or Midwife to manage symptoms

What are the Treatments for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

In general, the approach to treating PCOS is to help you manage your symptoms as well as possible. As new symptoms may (or may not) pop up, your OBGYN or Midwife will work with you to manage those as well.

As a result, PCOS may be treated in the following ways:

  • Infertility and trouble conceiving: These symptoms may sometimes be addressed with fertility treatments. This will increase the rate of your ovulation–or bypass the process altogether. If you have PCOS and want to get pregnant, your provider may refer you to a fertility specialist. Your OBGYN or Midwife may also prescribe medication designed to help you ovulate.
  • Menstrual irregularity: To help your monthly bleeding stay on track–and be more predictable–your OBGYN or Midwife may prescribe birth control options that are designed to regulate your menstrual cycle. This could include birth control pills, vaginal rings, and IUDs.
  • Weight gain: If your weight gain begins to interfere with your health or impact you in negative ways, your OBGYN or Midwife may take a tiered approach to your treatment. First, they may recommend increasing your daily activity or decreasing your daily caloric intake (or both). In other cases, medication might be used to help regulate the way your body stores fat.
  • Acne: To help improve your acne, your provider may refer you to see a dermatologist who may prescribe prescription strength face wash and other topical medications designed to help you keep your skin clear. Sometimes birth control or other prescription medications can be given to help with acne as well. 
  • Excess hair: Removal of excess facial or body hair often involves cosmetic methods which may include bleaching, waxing, shaving, laser or electrolysis. 
  • Diabetes and insulin related complications: Many individuals with PCOS are insulin resistant, making it challenging to address and manage diabetes that may occur. To help you control your blood pressure and avoid insulin-related complications, your OBGYN or Midwife may prescribe metformin, a diabetes drug that will lower your insulin resistance. This drug can also help regulate your ovulation and improve your weight loss prospects.

Your OBGYN or Midwife will help you manage the symptoms of your PCOS. There’s no cure for the overall condition, but with the right approach, you can still live a very full and healthy life.

Common PCOS Questions

Many people will have questions about their polycystic ovary syndrome. Among the most common are the following:

Will PCOS go away after menopause?

In some ways, your polycystic ovary syndrome will no longer impact you after menopause–in particular the aspects related to infertility and conception. However, your hormonal imbalance will still remain in place. And the life-long complications will still be with you. So, you’ll still have to work with your provider to manage any symptoms that remain.

If I become pregnant, will PCOS Impact my pregnancy?

It could. Polycystic ovary syndrome can increase your chances of gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and preterm birth. If you know you have PCOS and you become pregnant, you will want to work closely with your OBGYN or Midwife to monitor your pregnancy.

How will my doctor diagnose my PCOS?

A diagnosis requires a multitude of factors. In general, your OBGYN or Midwife will perform a physical exam and order blood tests. A pelvic exam and pelvic sonogram (ultrasound) may also be performed. Based on the results of all of these tests, your provider may be able to determine whether you have polycystic ovary syndrome and in some cases may refer you to meet with an endocrinologist who specializes in diagnosing, treating and managing metabolic disorders including PCOS.

Talk to Your OBGYN About PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome impacts almost one in ten people of childbearing age. This occurs in varying degrees of severity. So, it’s important to understand that, even though there is no cure for PCOS, many people are able to successfully treat this condition on a daily basis.

If you have questions about PCOS, or think this condition may be impacting your fertility, talk to your OBGYN or Midwife today! Contact us at our Wilmette or Glenview locations to schedule an appointment.

How Menopause Changes Your Body

In popular culture, menopause is often reduced to a simplistic set of symptoms, such as ill-timed hot flashes or wild changes in mood. In reality, however, menopause–and the perimenopause that comes before–is a time of transitions. Some of these transitions are significant, some minor. Knowing how menopause changes your body can help prepare you for this entirely natural part of your life.

Many people may look forward to menopause, as it signals the end of menstruation. Menopause won’t change who you are, what you love, or your fundamental personality–but it can change the way your body looks and behaves.

The Stages of Menopause

Menopause does not occur at the flip of a switch. It’s a long process as your body prepares for its post-reproductive years. In general, physicians break down the menopause experience into three distinct categories:

  • Perimenopause: This is when your body starts transitioning into menopause. For many individuals, perimenopause will begin in their 40s, when estrogen production starts to wane. Symptoms of perimenopause could include headaches, mood changes, hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, menstrual irregularities and more.
  • Menopause: You officially enter menopause when you’ve experienced at least 12 months without having your menstrual cycle without the aid of birth control or other medications. Once you experience menopause, you can no longer become pregnant.
  • Postmenopause: Your postmenopausal period is everything that occurs after menopause. After you experience menopause, then, you will be considered “postmenopausal.” 

These boundaries between these stages are somewhat artificial, but they help your OBGYN or Midwife ascertain how menopause affects your body, where you are on your menopause journey, and the best treatments to relieve discomfort.

How Menopause Changes Your Body

The primary–but not the only–means by which menopause will impact your body is by lowering the total amount of reproductive hormones (estrogen and progesterone, for example) you produce. This can have large impacts on how your body functions and how you generally feel. 

For most, menopause can change your body in some of the following ways.

Weight distribution:

As your metabolism slows down, the ways in which your body stores excess fat can change significantly. For most pre-menopausal individuals, fat is distributed mostly to the hips and thighs–below the waist. This changes with perimenopause as your hormones change. Fat will tend to stick to your abdominal areas above the waist. 

In more common terms, menopause will often cause some people to go from pear-shaped to apple-shaped.

Changes In Your Hair

As the hormones change within your body, you may notice some transformations when it comes to hair:

  • You may grow more facial hair. This is caused because your estrogen production is lower–so the ratio of estrogen to testosterone changes. With relatively more testosterone in your body (even though you aren’t producing more), you may experience hair growth in areas where you haven’t before.
  • The hair on your head may begin to thin. Again, this is caused by changes in your hormone levels and doesn’t impact every individual who becomes menopausal. 

Changes in Your Mood

The stereotype in popular culture is that menopause makes you cranky. And that’s sort of true. It’s more accurate to say that menopause may cause general moodiness of a wide variety of types. Those who are experiencing perimenopause, especially, may notice moods as varied as depression, irritability, and happiness. When these moods shift rapidly or for no rational or observable reason, this may be due to hormonal changes.

Trouble Sleeping

Insomnia is one of the most common–and often troubling–symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. There are a few primary reasons why you might have trouble sleeping:

  • Changes in your hormone levels: Drops in estrogen and progesterone hormones can impact how you’re able to sleep. Usually, hormonal changes can interrupt your sleep cycle, making it more challenging for you to fall asleep–or stay asleep.
  • Hot flashes and night sweats: Both of these symptoms can be quite uncomfortable on their own. Together, they often form a one-two punch that wakes you up throughout the night (and keeps you awake no matter how tired you are).

When you don’t get enough sleep, your overall mood and functionality may be negatively impacted for the rest of the day.

Drying Skin 

It’s somewhat well known that menopause can cause vaginal dryness. The hormones that help keep your vagina lubricated are less present. This can make sex painful and other impacts on your daily life. 

 

But menopause can also cause dry and itchy skin all over! That’s because there’s less estrogen stimulating the production of collagen, and without collagen your skin tends to lose more moisture over time. While this dry skin may be most noticeable in some common areas (such as your elbows), it may quickly become something that happens over your entire body.

This can cause widespread (and uncomfortable) itchiness. But there are treatments which can help mitigate these symptoms.

Can You Find Relief from the Changes of Menopause?

You can never go back to being pre-menopausal. As your body produces less estrogen, you’ll eventually find yourself at a postmenopausal new-normal. However, there are some ways that your OBGYN or Midwife will be able to make the process less unpleasant and the transition easier.

The first step may be treating some of your symptoms. For example, if your skin is dry, your OBGYN or Midwife may recommend specific moisturizers that can help prevent dry and itchy skin. Trouble sleeping can sometimes be mitigated with specific sleep aid therapies (i.e. mindfulness, meditation, cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia) or by adopting new behaviors. (aka sleep hygiene) Hot flashes may be treated with specific medications designed to diminish the impact that they have and use of a fan at night and wearing light layers of clothes can also provide relief.

Should You Get Hormone Therapy for Menopause?

Some women will be good candidates for hormone therapies. These hormones will attempt to supply your body with estrogen. That way, you and your OBGYN or Midwife can work to wean your body through your perimenopausal transition. This approach may help relieveyour symptoms.

Not everyone is a good candidate for hormone replacement therapies. Your OBGYN or Midwife will review your medical history to determine if starting hormones is appropriate or not.That’s because, in some cases, use of hormone therapy over long periods of time has been linked to the possible development of certain types of cancers, although this risk is lower if you no longer have a uterus. 

Talk to your OBGYN or Midwife to find the most effective–and safest–solutions for your menopause.

You Don’t Have to Suffer Through Menopause Symptoms

While some symptoms will certainly be less comfortable than others, menopause can still be a joyful and happy time in your life. Your body will change, but many individuals find positives within that transition. Those less comfortable symptoms can be successfully managed, making your journey through perimenopause into menopause less uncomfortable.

If you have concerns or questions about how menopause changes your body–and what you can do to manage any bothersome symptoms–contact your Wilmette or Glenview OBGYN or Midwife to schedule a consultation. 

 

Your First Menstrual Cycle

It’s very normal for your first menstrual cycle (aka menarche) to be a little scary. You’re not sure what to expect from your body or in terms of the discomfort you’ll feel–and you don’t know how long that discomfort will last. The more information you have, the better you’ll be able to navigate both your first period and the ones that follow.

For most individuals who menstruate, the menstrual cycle will become simply another aspect of your daily life. For some, your period may be more severe and intense; others may hardly notice it. Periods can be very consistent or frustratingly dynamic (heavy one month and light the next). Everyone’s periods will be slightly different, and your first menstrual cycle may not necessarily be predictive of what you will experience to follow.

As you navigate your first menstrual cycle, it’s important to know that this is a normal part of life–and that you can develop habits or find therapies that will make your future periods easier to handle.

What Happens During a Menstrual Cycle?

Menstruation is the result of normal processes within the uterus. When you’re young, the uterus has only a very thin lining. But as you approach puberty, your body begins producing more estrogen. This estrogen does many things, one of which is helping the uterine lining grow thicker. This thicker lining is intended to help fertilized eggs attach to the wall of the uterus to enable a pregnancy to begin. When that fertilized egg does not result in a pregnancy after a period of time the lining of the uterus is shed–and a new lining grows to replace it to prepare for your next menstrual cycle and possibility of pregnancy.

The shedding of the old lining is what causes menstruation–the broken-down lining is moved out of your uterus, and this results in bleeding and cramping. The duration of a menstrual cycle varies–not only from individual to individual but also from month to month. In most cases (and without other interventions), periods will be a normal and semi-monthly part of your life from puberty to menopause. 

Your Period vs. PMS

Your menstrual cycle may often be preceded by something called “premenstrual syndrome,” or PMS. These symptoms could include:

  • Back pain
  • Soreness
  • Fatigue
  • Soreness of the breasts
  • Bloating
  • The development of acne
  • White or clear discharge from your vagina
  • Constipation or diarrhea 
  • A general sense or irritability

The number of these symptoms you experience–if any–could vary from month to month or be a fairly consistent signal that your period will arrive shortly. 

Common Questions After Your First Menstrual Cycle

It’s very common for many people to have questions about their menstrual cycle–whether it’s their first or fiftieth. Some of the most common questions about your first menstrual cycle usually include the following:

  • When do I start getting my period? In most cases, your period will start between the ages of 11-12. For some it’s a little earlier or a little later (a couple of years before and after this age range is not unusual). 
    • How long do periods last?  The typical period will last anywhere between 2-8 days. Your period may be very regular; or it may vary wildly. Things such as stress, eating habits, and other medications can impact the duration of your period, as well.
  • How much pain or discomfort do periods cause? This will vary from person to person and, often, from month to month. For example, menstrual cramps for some individuals can be light. For others, cramps can be severe and impact your daily activities. You should talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about managing pain and discomfort caused by periods and PMS.
  • How often will I get my period? The broad rule of thumb is that you’ll get your period every 28 days or so. However, there is a wide degree of variability there. Sometimes the gap between periods can be as much as 45 days. In other cases, your period may come sooner than you expect. It may also take up to six years after your first period for your menstrual cycle to normalize and become more predictable.
  • Should I use pads? And how often should I change them? Pads are a great way to keep menstrual bleeding from ruining your clothing. You’ll usually need to change your pads every four to eight hours depending on how heavy your bleeding is. A good rule of thumb is to change your pads whenever they feel full, uncomfortable, or wet. 
  • Should I use pads or tampons? The answer to this question will likely depend on your preferences and daily activities. Tampons, for example, are wonderful for swimmers. Pads tend to be slightly more comfortable in a day-to-day setting–but this is somewhat subjective. If you don’t know which to choose, talk to your OBGYN or Midwife. Whether you use pads or tampons, however, do not use scented feminine products, as these can sometimes unbalance your vaginal pH levels and lead to infections.
  • What other menstrual products can or should I use? There are a wide variety of products available to help those who menstruate feel more comfortable. Newer examples of products include menstrual cups (which look like little silicone bells) and menstrual underwear (a pair of underwear with moisture wicking properties). These products are reusable, making them particularly appealing for those who are environmentally conscious. The broader point, however, is that there are options beyond tampons and pads, so you can find what works for you, your body, and your preferences. Talk to your OBGYN or Midwife if you’d like to know more about alternative menstrual products. 
  • How much blood will I lose during my period? For most people, the very first periods tend to be quite light, in some cases no more than light spotting. As your hormones begin to ramp up, you may experience heavier flow. Bleeding on the heavier side isn’t necessarily something to be concerned about, but if you feel light-headed or get the sense that you’ve lost too much blood, talk to your OB GYN or midwife and if you happen to be at school, you can speak with your school nurse.

How to be Prepared for Your Next Period

It’s easy to be surprised by your period, even if it’s not your first one. That’s why many people will create what they call a “period kit.” This is a small kit of supplies that you carry with you wherever you go; you can keep it in your backpack or locker. A typical period kit may include:

  • Extra pads and tampons (enough of each to get you through a day)
  • A clean pair of underwear (just in case)
  • Wipes (for clean up)
  • Pain relievers, such as Ibuprofen or Tylenol (comment, motrin or advil are forms of ibuprofen that are more effective for menstrual cramp pain) (this can help with minor or moderate discomfort)

If your period catches you unawares, there are some things you can do. For example, you can create a temporary pad out of several layers of toilet paper. Placing that temporary pad in your underwear can help absorb blood just until you are able to replace it with a pad or tampon. 

If you’re in school when your first period occurs, ask to talk to the nurse. It’s okay–we can guarantee your nurses have been asked about this before! And they’ll likely have spare pads or tampons for you to use.

Other Changes in Your Body

For many, the first menstrual cycle is both a rite of passage and a metaphor for starting to grow up. So every family may celebrate differently (or not celebrate at all). From a medical standpoint, once your period occurs, you may want to talk to your doctor about your reproductive health. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that adolescents visit with a gynecologist for the first time between the ages of 13-15. 

As you grow up, you can discuss the changes in your body as well as how best to control your symptoms.

Talk to your OBGYN

Your first period can be exciting–and more than a little intimidating. But it’s important to remember that just around half of the world’s population of adults has gone through exactly what you’re going through. 

Talking to your OBGYN or Midwife can help you manage menstrual symptoms and associated discomfort. And talking about your reproductive health can also ensure you are able to prioritize your long-term wellness. For most, the first menstrual cycle transitions easily into a monthly period that you can manage and fold into your life.

If you have questions about your first menses–or your child’s first menses–schedule an appointment with an OBGYN or Midwife to discuss what to expect. Contact our Wilmette or Glenview offices today to schedule an appointment.

HPV Vaccine: What You Need to Know

The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine is a critical addition to your immunization options. This particular vaccine protects you against certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). But because of the strains it targets, HPV vaccines will also protect you from some cervical cancers (as well as a few other cancers). 

In other words, the HPV vaccine can protect you against specific sexually transmitted infections and against the cancers that those infections sometimes generate. Unfortunately, HPV is exceptionally common, infecting about 13 million per year. According to one CDC survey, 45.2% of adults aged 18-59 had contracted genital HPV–including the high-risk versions of this disease. Not surprisingly, then, most providers recommend that you administer the first of two HPV vaccine doses as soon as possible after the age of 11.

Why Should You Get the HPV Vaccine?

The HPV is quite common in the United States–and it’s likely that just about everyone will end up with some form of this virus throughout their lifetimes. In many cases, those with HPV will not notice or present any symptoms. The virus is generally spread from skin-to-skin contact–and something like 42 million Americans are currently infected.

While many forms of HPV are relatively harmless, there are some specific strains that can go on to cause cancer. For women in particular, HPV has been linked to cervical cancer. In fact, HPV origins account for 91% of all cervical cancers.

HPV vaccines can successfully prevent these cancers, as well as the spread of the HPV strains that cause those cancers in the first place. This can give many individuals a significant amount of peace of mind and protection.

When Should You Get the HPV Vaccine?

In some ways, you’re never too old to get the HPV vaccine. However, there are some caveats to that. The ideal age to get an HPV vaccine is between the ages of 11-12. It’s recommended that anyone age 26 or under also get the vaccine. 

The vaccine is still approved for those between the ages of 26-45. However, it’s not always recommended. That’s because many people over that age have already contracted some strains of HPV, making the vaccine less effective. This can diminish the benefit of the HPV vaccine–but it doesn’t mean that there are no benefits. So, if you’re over the age of 26, you should talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about whether the HPV vaccine is right for you.

Dosing will increase as you get older. Here’s how that breaks down:

  • Ages 9-14: This age group responds well to a two-dose schedule.
  • Ages 15-26: This age group will require a three-dose vaccine schedule. 

Typically, doses are scheduled at least six months apart. While the first dose does provide a significant amount of protection, the full scheduled doses are needed to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Who Should Get the HPV Vaccine?

Many patients have questions about who should get the HPV vaccine and why. Here are some of the most common:

  • Should men and women receive the HPV Vaccine? Yes. The HPV vaccine can prevent some cancers in men, too (i.e. penile, anal and throat). Additionally, the more individuals who are vaccinated, the less these versions of HPV are able to spread.
  • Should I get the vaccine even if I have tested positive for cervical cancer DNA? Yes. Even if you have tested positive for cervical cancer DNA, the HPV vaccine can still prove beneficial and protective against other HPV types. 
  • Do I need to start all over if I miss a dose of HPV vaccine? Nope! You can pick right up where you left off.

Concerns and Questions Regarding HPV Vaccines

There are several concerns patients have regarding HPV vaccines. Some of the most common are the following:

Is HPV the Same Disease as Herpes?

The disease commonly known as herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), and it’s often conflated with HPV. That’s because there are multiple strains of each disease, and many strains cause sores. However, HPV and HSV are two different viruses. The HPV vaccine does not offer any protection against the herpes virus.

Does the HPV Vaccine Lead to an Increase in Sexual Activity?

Some people have expressed a concern that giving a young individual the HPV vaccine might encourage carelessness regarding sexual activity and safe sex. However, study after study has found no evidence to support this claim. Instead, providing kids (and adults) with the HPV vaccine simply leads to a decrease in HPV and types of cancer.

What Are the Side Effects of the HPV Vaccine?

Like any medication, the HPV vaccine may produce some side effects in a small portion of the population. Those side effects may include:

  • Swelling, redness, or pain near the injection site.
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or fainting (though, this is more common in adolescents)

If you have questions or concerns about the possible complications from HPV vaccine, talk to your OBGYN or Midwife to get personalized answers. For the vast majority of people, the HPV vaccine is incredibly safe and effective.

Does the HPV Vaccine Mean I Don’t Have to Get a Pap Smear?

A pap smear is a routine test designed to check for the first signs of cervical cancer (or the cellular changes that lead to cervical cancer). So you might be inclined to think that after an HPV vaccine, you won’t need a pap smear anymore. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true.

While the HPV vaccine will prevent the majority of cervical cancers, it won’t prevent all of them. As a result, your OBGYN or Midwife will still want to catch any possible cervical cancer as early in the process as possible. This means that even after your HPV vaccine, a regular pap smear will still be recommended.

How Successful is the HPV Vaccine?

Among women who have received the HPV vaccine, over 80% have seen a drop in genital warts as well as an 80% drop in cervical cancers. That’s a significant amount of protection–and the rates of protection tend to increase as the vaccination age gets younger.

That’s not because the vaccine loses potency as you age. It’s because as you age, you’re more likely to have already encountered the human papillomavirus. That’s why, for many patients, the earlier you can receive the vaccine the better. 

The HPV Vaccines Offers Significant Protection

Because the human papillomavirus is so common–often transmitted with no symptoms–your best line of defense is to prevent transmission in the first place. While the HPV vaccine will not prevent all strains of HPV, it can prevent those most likely to cause cancer in the future.

In terms of protecting your overall health, the HPV vaccine can produce impressively successful results. To find out more about how the HPV vaccine can impact you and your health, talk to your OBGYN or Midwife.

To schedule an appointment, contact our Wilmette or Glenview locations.

 

Aging and Sexuality

More than 50% of people over the age of 70 are sexually active. While sexual activity will change as you age, the desire for closeness and intimacy will likely remain strong. Talking with your OBGYN or Midwife about aging and sexuality can help you know what to expect as you grow older and how you can maintain your sexual health at any age. 

There’s an especially common misconception that the desire for sex and intimacy in women wanes as they age. But recent studies have found that this isn’t necessarily the case. True, your sex life may not be the same at 50 as it was at 20–but those differences can be enriching and fulfilling.

In those cases where physiological causes diminish your enjoyment of sex, be sure to talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about possible solutions.

What Aging and Sexuality Look Like?

One of the most common misconceptions regarding sexuality and aging is that every change is negative. The reality is that many people discover greater intimacy and satisfaction with age. But it’s also true that many people aren’t necessarily sure what to expect. Just as aging impacts everyone’s general health uniquely, aging and sexuality will look different for everyone.

For most, the primary concerns revolve around physiological changes that may interfere with your ability to become intimate. This could involve hormone changes that diminish your ability to enjoy sex, for example. But most couples can still find ways to be intimate and close to each other; it may simply look a little bit different than it used to. At the same time, your OBGYN or Midwife may be able to offer solutions that help improve your sexual health.

In many ways, the way that “most” women respond to sexuality and aging doesn’t matter. What’s important to you is how you as an individual respond to aging and sex–especially in terms of how you envision expression your sexuality in the future and how important your sexual health is to you.

Normal Changes in Sex for Women as They Age

For most women, there are two primary changes that occur which can make the enjoyment and expression of your sexuality more challenging:

  • Changes in the vagina: It’s not uncommon for the vagina to grow shorter as you age. Additionally, the vaginal walls can become thinner and more rigid. This can lead to some discomfort during sex.
  • Lower estrogen levels: As women become premenopausal, their hormone levels change. In most cases, this leads to a drop in estrogen production. This can impact many aspects of your life. But in terms of sexuality, a drop in estrogen levels may mean it’s more difficult to achieve sexual arousal. Vaginal dryness may also be an issue.

These changes can make sexual intercourse painful for many women. There are several possible solutions, including medications. Some couples may also avoid penetration and find other ways to express their intimacy.

There are other changes you can expect that are related to general aging. Issues such as arthritis or chronic pain can simply make moving around more challenging. Certain aspects of sex may be less fun when your hands or hips are in pain! As a result, it’s important to find sexual expressions that feel good and bring you enjoyment.

Conditions and Medications That Can Impact Your Sexual Health

In general, anything that impacts your overall health will likely influence your sexual health as well. Conditions ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes to simple hormonal changes can all impact your sexual wellbeing. 

You’ll want to talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about ways you can stay healthy enough for sexual activity. For some, that may mean focusing on maintaining a balanced lifestyle, including eating well and exercising regularly. In other cases, your OBGYN or Midwife may suggest medications.

Medications That Can Impact Sexuality as You Age

Of course, there are also medications which can negatively impact your sexual desire. Many anti-depressants, for example, have been known to diminish the desire for sexual activity. 

If you have concerns that your medication is interfering with your sexual desire, you should talk to your OBGYN or Midwife. It’s possible that you may be able to find a solution that treats your condition and does not impede your sexual health.

It’s also important to note that some medications can have the opposite impact–increasing your desire for sex. For example, estrogen prescriptions for perimenopause have been shown to increase sexual desire.

Medical Situations That Impact Sexual Health

There may also be some medical and healthcare-related issues that can impact your sexual wellness. Those could include:

  • Surgery: When you undergo surgery, your body will likely require time to heal. Sexual activity may not be top-of-mind during recovery–and any procedure that impacts the hips or nervous system may amplify that effect. However, with rest and recovery your sexual desire will usually return.
  • Your partner becomes ill: Many sexual activities require a partner. So, when your partner experiences illness or disease, that can put a damper on things. First, you’re worried about your partner. Second, you may find yourself taking on a caregiver role (which can diminish desire). Additionally, your partner may experience pain and discomfort, which can interfere with sexual desire in both parties. The key to rebuilding sexual intimacy is to communicate about what’s needed and perhaps brainstorm other ways to be close.

Communication is Critical

Aging is a series of changes, both for you and for your partner. Maintaining an enriching sex life depends on open and honest communication as you age. This is, of course, true at any age. But it’s especially relevant when it comes to aging and sexuality.

Here are some things you should consider communicating about:

  • Differences in desire: If you and your partner experience differences in desire, it’s important to discuss those. These conversations can feel a little tricky, so don’t hesitate to use plenty of “I feel” statements. 
  • New ways to be intimate: There are many ways to experience intimacy. Talk to your partner about what works best for you now–kissing, touching, and hugging can all be very effective ways to express love and affection. Talk about what you need from your partner (and what your partner needs from you). 
  • Safety: Ensure that you and your partner are talking about safe sex. If you’ve already experienced menopause, it’s true that you can no longer become pregnant–but you can catch sexually transmitted infections. Safe sex practices can help keep you healthy and active.
  • Communicate with your doctor: It’s not just your partner you need to communicate with. It’s also your doctor. In part, that’s because your doctor can help you with medical issues that impact your sexual health–getting your desire back on track.

An Enriching Part of Life

There are plenty of misconceptions about what sexuality later in life may look like. What’s important, however, is to determine what you want your sex life to look like. Your OBGYN or Midwife can help you maintain and improve your sexual health–so you can enjoy your sex life as you age.

To talk to an OBGYN or Midwife, contact our Wilmette or Glenview offices today.

 

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