Genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), previously known as atrophic vaginitis or vulvovaginal atrophy, affects more than half of postmenopausal women. Caused by low estrogen levels after menopause, it results in bothersome symptoms, including vaginal dryness, itching, dyspareunia, urinary urgency and increased frequency, and urinary tract infections. Even though women with GSM can have sexual dysfunction that interferes with partner relationships, women are often embarrassed to seek treatment, and health care professionals do not always actively screen for GSM. As a result, GSM remains underdiagnosed and undertreated.
Several effective treatments exist, but low-dose vaginal estrogen therapy is the criterion standard. It is effective and safe for most patients, but caution is suggested for survivors of hormone-sensitive cancers. Newer treatment options include selective estrogen receptor modulators, vaginal dehydroepiandrosterone, and laser therapy. Nonprescription treatments include vaginal lubricants, moisturizers, and dilators.
Pelvic floor physical therapy may be indicated for some women with concomitant pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. Sex therapy may be helpful for women with sexual dysfunction. This concise review presents a practical approach to the evaluation and management of GSM for the primary care physician.