A common symptom of genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) is dyspareunia, attributed to vulvovaginal atrophy. Our objective was to systematically describe the pain characteristics and anatomic locations of tenderness in a cohort with moderate/severe dyspareunia likely due to GSM.
This cross-sectional study reports the baseline data of postmenopausal women with dyspareunia screened for an intervention trial of topical estrogen. Postmenopausal women not using hormone therapy who had moderate or severe dyspareunia were eligible if estrogen was not contraindicated. Biopsychosocial assessments were performed using the Vulvar Pain Assessment Questionnaire, and participants underwent a systematic vulvovaginal examination that included a visual assessment and cotton swab testing for tenderness rated using the Numerical Rating Scale (0-10). Vaginal pH and mucosal sensitivity were assessed; pelvic floor muscles and pelvic viscera were palpated for tenderness.
Fifty-five eligible women were examined between July 2017 and August 2019. Mean age was 59.5 ± 6.8 years, and duration of dyspareunia was 6.2 ± 4.3 years. The mean intercourse pain score was 7.3 ± 1.8, most often described as “burning” and “raw.” Ninety-eight percent had physical findings of vulvovaginal atrophy. Median pain scores from swab touch at the vulvar vestibule (just outside the hymen) were 4 to 5/10, and topical lidocaine extinguished pain. Median vaginal mucosal pain was zero.
Participants described their pain as “burning” and “dry.” Tenderness was most severe and most consistently located at the vulvar vestibule. Correlating the symptom of dyspareunia with genital examination findings may further our understanding of treatment outcomes for GSM.