Vaginal atrophy, also called atrophic vaginitis, is thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls due to your body having less estrogen. Vaginal atrophy occurs most often after menopause, but it can also develop during breast-feeding or at any other time your body's estrogen production declines.
For many women, vaginal atrophy makes intercourse painful — and if intercourse hurts, your interest in sex will naturally decrease. In addition, healthy genital function is closely connected with healthy urinary system function.
Simple, effective treatments for vaginal atrophy are available. Reduced estrogen levels result in changes to your body, but it doesn't mean you have to live with the discomfort of vaginal atrophy.
With moderate to severe vaginal atrophy, you may experience the following vaginal and urinary signs and symptoms:
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience painful intercourse that's not resolved by using a vaginal moisturizer (Replens, Vagisil Feminine Moisturizer, others) or water-based lubricant (glycerin-free versions of Astroglide, K-Y Intrigue, others) or if you have vaginal symptoms, such as unusual bleeding, discharge, burning or soreness.
Vaginal atrophy is caused by a decrease in estrogen production. Less estrogen makes your vaginal tissues thinner, drier, less elastic and more fragile.
A drop in estrogen levels and vaginal atrophy may occur:
Vaginal atrophy due to menopause may begin to bother you during the years leading up to menopause, or it may not become a problem until several years into menopause. Although the condition is common, not all menopausal women develop vaginal atrophy. Regular sexual activity, with or without a partner, can help you maintain healthy vaginal tissues.
Certain factors may contribute to vaginal atrophy, such as:
Vaginal atrophy increases your risk of vaginal infections and urinary problems.
Preparing for your appointment
You'll probably start by discussing your symptoms with your primary care provider. If you aren't already seeing a doctor who specializes in women's health (gynecologist or internal medicine women's health specialist), your primary care provider may refer you to one.
What you can do
Some basic questions to ask include:
Questions your doctor may ask
Tests and diagnosis
Diagnosis of vaginal atrophy may involve:
Treatments and drugs
Your doctor may first recommend that you:
Bothersome symptoms that don't improve with over-the-counter treatments may be helped by:
Systemic estrogen therapy
If you've had breast cancer
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you're experiencing vaginal dryness or irritation, these measures may provide some relief:
Some alternative medicines are used to treat vaginal dryness and irritation associated with menopause, but few approaches are backed by evidence from clinical trials. Interest in complementary and alternative medicine is growing, and researchers are working to determine the benefits and risks of various alternative treatments for vaginal atrophy.
Talk with your doctor before taking any herbal or dietary supplements for perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate herbal products, and some can be dangerous or interact with other medications you take, putting your health at risk.
Regular sexual activity, either with or without a partner, may help prevent vaginal atrophy. Sexual activity increases blood flow to your vagina, which helps keep vaginal tissues healthy.
Last Updated: 2013-04-23
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