Vaginal atrophy is a frequent complaint of postmenopausal women; symptoms include vaginal dryness, itching, discomfort and painful intercourse. Systemic treatment for these symptoms in the form of oral hormone replacement therapy is not always necessary. An alternative choice is oestrogenic preparations administered vaginally (in the form of creams, pessaries, tablets and the oestradiol-releasing ring). This is an update of a Chochrane systematic review; the original version was first published in October 2006.
The objective of this review was to compare the efficacy and safety of intra-vaginal oestrogenic preparations in relieving the symptoms of vaginal atrophy in postmenopausal women.
We searched the following databases and trials registers to April 2016: Cochrane Gynaecology and Fertility Group Register of trials, The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2016 issue 4), MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, DARE, the Web of Knowledge, OpenGrey, LILACS, PubMed and reference lists of articles. We also contacted experts and researchers in the field.
The inclusion criteria were randomised comparisons of oestrogenic preparations administered intravaginally in postmenopausal women for at least 12 weeks for the treatment of symptoms resulting from vaginal atrophy or vaginitis.
Two review authors independently assessed trial eligibility and risk of bias and extracted the data. The primary review outcomes were improvement in symptoms (participant-assessed), and the adverse event endometrial thickness. Secondary outcomes were improvement in symptoms (clinician-assessed), other adverse events (breast disorders e.g. breast pain, enlargement or engorgement, total adverse events, excluding breast disorders) and adherence to treatment. We combined data to calculate pooled risk ratios (RRs) (dichotomous outcomes) and mean differences (MDs) (continuous outcomes) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Statistical heterogeneity was assessed using the I(2) statistic. We assessed the overall quality of the evidence for the main comparisons using GRADE methods.
We included 30 RCTs (6235 women) comparing different intra-vaginal oestrogenic preparations with each other and with placebo. The evidence was low to moderate quality; limitations were poor reporting of study methods and serious imprecision (effect estimates with wide confidence intervals)1. Oestrogen ring versus other regimensOther regimens included oestrogen cream, oestrogen tablets and placebo. There was no evidence of a difference in improvement in symptoms (participant assessment) either between oestrogen ring and oestrogen cream (odds ratio (OR) 1.33, 95% CI 0.80 to 2.19, two RCTs, n = 341, I(2) = 0%, low-quality evidence) or between oestrogen ring and oestrogen tablets (OR 0.78, 95% CI 0.53 to 1.15, three RCTs, n = 567, I(2) = 0%, low-quality evidence). However, a higher proportion of women reported improvement in symptoms following treatment with oestrogen ring compared with placebo (OR 12.67, 95% CI 3.23 to 49.66, one RCT, n = 67). With respect to endometrial thickness, a higher proportion of women who received oestrogen cream showed evidence of increase in endometrial thickness compared to those who were treated with oestrogen ring (OR 0.36, 95% CI 0.14 to 0.94, two RCTs, n = 273; I(2) = 0%, low-quality evidence). This may have been due to the higher doses of cream used. 2. Oestrogen tablets versus other regimensOther regimens in this comparison included oestrogen cream, and placebo. There was no evidence of a difference in the proportions of women who reported improvement in symptoms between oestrogen tablets and oestrogen cream (OR 1.06, 95% CI 0.55 to 2.01, two RCTs, n = 208, I(2) = 0% low-quality evidence). A higher proportion of women who were treated with oestrogen tablets reported improvement in symptoms compared to those who received placebo using a fixed-effect model (OR 12.47, 95% CI 9.81 to 15.84, two RCTs, n = 1638, I(2) = 83%, low-quality evidence); however, using a random-effect model did not demonstrate any evidence of a difference in the proportions of women who reported improvement between the two treatment groups (OR 5.80, 95% CI 0.88 to 38.29). There was no evidence of a difference in the proportions of women with increase in endometrial thickness between oestrogen tablets and oestrogen cream (OR 0.31, 95% CI 0.06 to 1.60, two RCTs, n = 151, I(2) = 0%, low-quality evidence).3. Oestrogen cream versus other regimensOther regimens identified in this comparison included isoflavone gel and placebo. There was no evidence of a difference in the proportions of women with improvement in symptoms between oestrogen cream and isoflavone gel (OR 2.08, 95% CI 0.08 to 53.76, one RCT, n = 50, low-quality evidence). However, there was evidence of a difference in the proportions of women with improvement in symptoms between oestrogen cream and placebo with more women who received oestrogen cream reporting improvement in symptoms compared to those who were treated with placebo (OR 4.10, 95% CI 1.88 to 8.93, two RCTs, n = 198, I(2) = 50%, low-quality evidence). None of the included studies in this comparison reported data on endometrial thickness.
There was no evidence of a difference in efficacy between the various intravaginal oestrogenic preparations when compared with each other. However, there was low-quality evidence that intra-vaginal oestrogenic preparations improve the symptoms of vaginal atrophy in postmenopausal women when compared to placebo. There was low-quality evidence that oestrogen cream may be associated with an increase in endometrial thickness compared to oestrogen ring; this may have been due to the higher doses of cream used. However there was no evidence of a difference in the overall body of evidence in adverse events between the various oestrogenic preparations compared with each other or with placebo.