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Vaginismus is a condition which affects a woman's ability to have sexual intercourse, insert tampons and undergo gynaecological examinations. This is due to a conditioned muscle reflex in the PC muscle, they clamp shut making penetration either extremely painful or in many cases, impossible. The woman does not choose for this to happen; it is a learned reflex reaction. A comparison which is often made, is that of the eye shutting when an object comes towards it. This, like vaginismus is a reflex reaction designed to protect our bodies from pain. more...

VACTERL association
Van der Woude syndrome
Van Goethem syndrome
Varicella Zoster
Variegate porphyria
Vasovagal syncope
VATER association
Velocardiofacial syndrome
Ventricular septal defect
Viral hemorrhagic fever
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
VLCAD deficiency
Von Gierke disease
Von Hippel-Lindau disease
Von Recklinghausen disease
Von Willebrand disease

A woman with vaginismus expects pain to come with penetration and so her mind automatically sends a signal to her PC muscles to clamp shut, thus making penetration either impossible or very painful. The severity of vaginismus varies from woman to woman.

The condtioned reflex creates a vicious circle for vaginismic women. For example, if a teenage girl is told that the first time she has sex it will be very painful, she may develop vaginismus because she expects pain. If she then attempts to have sexual intercourse, her muscles will spasm and clamp shut which will make sex painful. This then confirms her fear of pain as does each further attempt at intercourse. Every time the fear is confirmed, the brain is being "shown" that sex does hurt and that the reflex reaction of the PC muscles is needed. This is why it is important that if a woman suspects she has vaginismus, she stops attempting to have sexual intercourse. This does not mean women with vaginismus can not partake in other sexual activities, as long as penetration is avoided. It is a common misconception that these women do not want to have sex as a lot of the time, they desperately do.

There is no one reason that a woman may have vaginismus and in fact, there are a variety of factors that can contribute. These may be psychological or physiological and the treatment required will usually depend on the reason why the woman has the condition. Some examples of causes of vaginimus include sexual abuse, strict religious upbringing, being taught that sex is dirty or wrong or simply the fear of pain associated with penetration, and in particular, losing your virginity. These are just some of the reported reasons behind vaginismus and there are many, many more. It is a very personal condition and so each case must be looked at individually as causes and treatment can not be generalised to all women with vaginismus.

Most women who suffer from vaginismus do not realise they have it until they try to insert a tampon or have sex for the first time and so it may come as quite a shock to them. Whether they choose to treat the problem or not is entirely their choice and they should never be led to believe that vaginismus must be treated. It is not an illness or a dysfunction and therefore the only physical effect it will have on a woman is making penetration painful or impossible. It will not get worse or more serious if left untreated unless the woman is continuing to have sex/use tampons despite feeling pain on penetration.

Primary vaginismus

Primary vaginismus occurs when a woman has never been able to have sexual intercourse or achieve any other kind of penetration. It is commonly discovered in teenagers and women in their early twenties as this is when the majority of women will attempt to use tampons, have sexual intercourse or complete a pap smear for the first time. It can often be very confusing for a woman when she discovers she has vaginismus as we are led to believe that sex is something that comes naturally to us. It can be even more confusing if the woman does not know why she has the condition, as is true for many women.


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Estrogen ring use for genitourinary atrophy and menopausal symptomatology: understanding risks and benefits of estrogen ring use are paramount to successful
From Geriatrics, 5/1/04 by Holly L. Thacker

Vaginal estrogen ring use is expanding for women. Physicians who know the indications for prescribing estrogen therapy and understand the risks and benefit can prescribe estrogen regardless of their specialty. Different estrogen rings perform different tasks (table 1). For example, one vaginal ring, Estring, is indicated exclusively for genitourinary atrophy (GU), while a new one, FemRing, is FDA approved for GU treatment and menopausal symptomatology.

For some time, the Estring vaginal ring, a Silicone ring that releases 2 mcg/d of estradiol for three months, has been indicated for treatment of local GU atrophy in women with or without a uterus. Estring is only indicated for local GU treatment and has not been shown to treat menopausal symptoms. Symptoms of urogenital atrophy include: frank atrophic vaginitis with thin vaginal tissue and loss of vaginal rugae and elevated vaginal pH. (1) Atrophic vulvitis can manifest as kraurosis vulvitis with pruritus. Atrophic urethritis and trigonitis can predispose to urinary tract infection, as well as exacerbation of an overactive bladder. There are no large randomized, controlled trials (RCTs) that have looked at cancer outcomes with the Estring vaginal ring; however, there have RCTs examining estrogen blood levels and endometrial thickness that have not found any significant endometrial effects.

The Femring, which has been available in the United Kingdom for the last few years, is now FDA-approved for use in women with a hysterectomy who desire both local and systemic estrogen therapy delivered via a vaginal ring. Femring is a silastic ring with estradiol used every three months; it is for both vaginal and systemic estrogen therapy. It is indicated for treatment of menopausal symptomatology as well as GU atrophy. Each Femring delivers 50 mcg/d estradiol for three months from a drug reservoir containing 12.4 mg of estradiol acetate (approximately equivalent to systemic estradiol patches of 0.05). It is not approved to prevent or manage osteoporosis like other oral and transdermal estrogen therapies; however, ultralow doses of parental estradiol have been shown to positively affect bone. (1, 2) If adequate estradiol levels and adequate calcium and vitamin D intake are maintained, very low dose oral estrogen has been shown to have salutary effects on bone in older women (table 2). (3)

The Femring was initially approved for women who do not have a uterus for both local and systemic estrogen effect. In women with a uterus, if Femring is used, there is systemic estrogen effect and consequently endometrial stimulation. Therefore, if a woman has a uterus and is using Femring, progestin/progesterone therapy (either low-dose daily or cyclic monthly progestin) is indicated to prevent endometrial hyperplasia. (4,5)

These postmenopausal rings are in contrast to the NuvaRing (containing ethinyl estradiol and etonogestrel), which was the first contraceptive vaginal ring for premenopausal women. The NuvaRing is worn for three weeks and removed for one week during withdrawal menses. Currently there is no estroge- progestin postmenopausal hormone therapy vaginal ring.

Most women can insert and remove vaginal rings without difficulty in either the standing or supine position. The exact position of the vaginal ring is not critical as long as it is placed in the upper one-third of the vagina. Women who have not been sexually active for several years and/or have severe vaginismus and/or introital stenosis would not be candidates for this treatment. However, if these conditions are present in an older woman, local vaginal cream with finger application followed by progressive vaginal dilator use could be tried, followed by vaginal ring use.

As with all vaginal ring use, the woman needs to be instructed to remember to remove the ring and reinsert a new ring. If for some reason the ring falls out or is removed prior to the three-month interval, it can be washed with warm water and reinserted. The external diameter of the ring is 56 mm, which for the majority of postmenopausal women is small enough to be comfortable and yet not too small to fall out of the vagina.

There is no reason to think that the Femring would be any safer then either oral estrogen or transdermal estrogen in that the systemic estrogen effect and the risk for serious adverse consequences, including deep vein thrombosis, would be anticipated to be the same. The FDA has required the same risk labeling on all estrogen products. However, recently a study comparing oral and transdermal estrogen replacement therapy suggested less venous thromboembolism (VTE) with transdermal estrogen. (4) This data suggests, but does not confirm, that transdermal estrogen may be safer than oral estrogen with respect to thrombotic risk. Furthermore, there have been no comparative studies of vaginal estrogen systemic rings versus transdermal estrogen versus oral estrogens in terms of VTE risk. (5) However, the vaginal ring does bypass enterohepatic circulation and in some women, such as those with hypertriglyceridemia, Femring may offer an advantage over oral dosing.

An advantage with this ring is that symptomatic menopausal women who have had a hysterectomy and have adequate pelvic support, and desire both the systemic and local estrogen therapy would only have to think about treatment once a season (every three months). Other dosing regimens not available yet, such as a lower dose of estradiol (releasing 25 mcg/day of estradiol for three months) would be convenient for older women who ingest adequate calcium and vitamin D.

In the future, it would be convenient to have vaginal rings with progestin available (for women who need the progestin opposition for uterine protection), and androgen vaginal rings for women with female androgen deficiency syndrome. Indications for estrogen therapy and the individual risk-benefit equation for hormone use in any woman needs to be reassessed at least annually. (6, 7) The estrogen (Premarin 0.625 mg) arm of the WHI was recently released and shows no increase risk of breast cancer in women who have had a hysterectomy (and don't require progestin opposition.) (8)


(1.) Messinger-Rapport BJ, Thacker HL. Prevention for the older woman. A practical guide hormone replacement therapy and urogynecologic health. Geriatrics 2001;56(9):32-42.

(2.) Messinger-Rapport BJ and Thacker HL. Prevention for the older woman. A practical guide to prevention and treatment of osteoporosis." Geriatrics 2002; 57(4):16-8, 21-4, 27.

(3.) Prestwood KM, Kenny AM, Kleppinger A, Kulldorff M. Ultralow-dose micronized 17beta-estradiol and bone density and bone metabolism in older women: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2003; 290(8):1042-8.

(4.) Scarabin PY, Oger E, Plu-Bureau G; EStrogen and THromboEmbolism Risk Study Group. Differential association of oral and transdermal estrogen replacement therapy with venous thromboembolism risk. Lancet 2003; 362(9382):428-32.

(5.) Budev MM and Thacker HL. Exogenous female hormone administration and venous thrombosis. Dec. 10, 2003. diseasemanagement/women/exogenous/exogenous.htm. Accessed April 8, 2004.

(6.) Elder J and Thacker HL. Women's Health: Menopause. Cleveland Clinic Foundation Electronic Textbook of Medicine. menopause.htm. Accessed April 8, 2004.

(7.) North American Menopause Society. Estrogen and progestogen use in peri- and postmenopausal women: September 2003 position statement of The North American Menopause Society. Menopause 2003; 10(6):497-506.

(8.) Anderson GL, Limacher M, Assaf AR, et al; Women's Health Initiative Steering Committee. Effects of conjugated equine estrogen in postmenopausal women with hysterectomy. The Women's Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2004; 291(14):1701-12.

Dr. Thacker is assistant professor of internal medicine, Ohio State University School of Medicine, Columbus, and clinical associate professor of medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, PA. She is also section head of women's health and staff physician, departments of general internal medicine and obstetrics and gynecology, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, Ohio. Disclosure: Dr. Thacker discloses that she serves on the speakers' bureaus of the Pfizer, Wyeth-Ayerst, Eli Lilly, and Merck corporations.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Advanstar Communications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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