Urogenital atrophy: The ‘unknown factors’ challenging current practice.
Urogenital atrophy occurs as a result of the effect of estrogen deficiency on the tissue quality in the vulva, vagina, urethra and bladder. It is a common consequence of the menopause, with possibly up to 80% of women experiencing symptoms. Despite a number of different diagnostic methods, there is no validated objective method by which to confirm the diagnosis in clinical practice and research settings. Education, for women and clinicians, is called for to support diagnosis and treatment. However, before this can be of global benefit, development of an accessible and reproducible diagnostic test is required. Current assessment methods include routine history and clinical examination, with the clinician’s opinion based on their subjective observations. A vaginal smear to assess the ratio of superficial to parabasal cells and measurement of the pH of the vaginal secretions is more commonly used in research settings. A number of formulae have been postulated to facilitate the diagnosis including the Vaginal Health Index, the Vulval Health Index, the Genitourinary Syndrome of the Menopause assessment tool, the Genital Health Clinical Evaluation and vaginal biopsy and assessment of the vaginal microbiome. However, none of these potential methods of assessment has been validated. This article focuses on what we do not know about urogenital atrophy including the prevalence, the most appropriate terminology, aetiology, pathogenesis and the most objective and reproducible method of assessment.