Introduction: Oxytocin is a peptide hormone produced in the hypothalamus and it is best known for its role in labour and lactation. This double-blind, randomized study was performed at Huddinge Hospital of Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm in order to test the effectiveness of topical oxytocin gel in women with postmenopausal vaginal atrophy.
Methods: Twenty postmenopausal women (at least two years after menopause) with symptoms of vaginal atrophy such as vaginal dryness, pain, itching, discomfort and bleeding during intercourse were enrolled in the study when visual inspection of the vagina had confirmed that their mucosa was atrophic. The participants were randomized to intravaginal treatment with either oxytocin or placebo gel for seven days. Before and after treatment, a gynaecological examination and a visual and colposcopic inspection of the vagina were performed, biopsies from the vaginal mucosa were taken and blood samples were collected for analysis of circulating levels of estradiol and oxytocin.
Results: Prior to treatment, visual and colposcopic inspection showed that all of the 20 participants had an atrophic vaginal mucosa. After treatment with the oxytocin gel, the examination showed that the vaginal epithelium of seven of the 10 participants in the oxytocin group had become healthier and normalized. No change in these parameters was observed among the 10 participants in the placebo group. This difference between the oxytocin and placebo groups was significant (P= 0.003). Seven participants in the active group and four in the placebo group reported relief of symptoms of vaginal atrophy after seven days of applying the gel. The effect of oxytocin to normalize the morphological appearance of the vaginal mucosa was almost significant when compared with the placebo group (P= 0.07). There was no significant difference between the circulating levels of estradiol and oxytocin in both the oxytocin and placebo groups before and after treatment. None of the participants reported any side-effects.
Conclusion: Topical treatment with oxytocin appears to improve vaginal atrophy in postmenopausal women. A limitation of this pilot study is that it was based on a small study population hence the results should be regarded with caution. Larger studies are in progress to establish the possibility of using oxytocin as a clinical treatment for vaginal atrophy.