Vaginal atrophy, also known as atrophic vaginitis or vaginal dryness, describes a condition defined by thin, dry, and inflamed tissue in the vaginal walls. The problem results when estrogen levels decrease and fail to produce adequate vaginal lubrication. While it’s not always associated with illness, vaginal atrophy can affect your sexual health and quality of life.
Though not as well-known as hot flashes or night sweats, vaginal atrophy is a common symptom of menopause. More than 50% of post-menopausal women between the ages of 51 and 60 experience symptoms related to vaginal atrophy, though the condition is often underreported. Women may fail to seek treatment because of embarrassment or a feeling that it’s an unavoidable consequence of aging.
However, you can experience vaginal atrophy at any age, especially if you have a condition that interferes with normal estrogen production. Vaginal atrophy can occur as a side effect of hysterectomy, chemotherapy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or certain medications or medical conditions.
Consulting with a medical provider can help you determine whether you have vaginal atrophy and your options for treatment. The women’s health specialists at Ovation Wellness in Madison, Mississippi, have the expertise necessary to help you find effective solutions that can relieve discomfort, improve your quality of life, and help you feel like yourself again.
Here are signs that your vagina may be affected by atrophy:
Vaginal itching or burning
Dry vaginal tissue can become inflamed, resulting in itching or burning. You’re most likely to experience these symptoms after intercourse or when you urinate.
Vaginal atrophy can also cause symptoms in the sensitive tissue in your external genital area, called the vulva. Burning or itching in this area can be so uncomfortable that it can be difficult to wear underwear or any type of tight clothing that allows the material to rub against your irritated skin.
Pain during sex
The natural vaginal lubrication that occurs with normal estrogen levels provides the moisture necessary for comfortable intercourse. Without adequate lubrication of the vaginal walls, sexual penetration can be painful.
Inability to reach orgasm
Experiencing sexual intercourse without proper lubrication can be painful. Friction against thin, dry vaginal walls can cause irritation and burning, sensations likely to interfere with your ability to reach orgasm. Untreated vaginal atrophy can lead to less interest in sex, which can impact the quality of your relationships and your emotional well-being.
Thinner vaginal tissue provides less protection to the blood vessels in the vaginal wall. The pressure and friction that occur during intercourse can damage these blood vessels, triggering bleeding not linked to menstruation.
More urinary tract infections (UTIs)
At normal levels, estrogen helps maintain healthy levels of good bacteria and prevents the spread of bad bacteria in vaginal tissue. When inadequate estrogen levels exist, it’s possible that more bad bacteria can thrive.
Thin vaginal tissue can make it easier for bad bacteria to reach your urethra and bladder, where it can infect your urinary tract, resulting in a UTI.
Treating vaginal atrophy
The good news is that vaginal atrophy is a highly treatable condition. The most effective treatment depends on the source and extent of your symptoms, as well as your overall health.
Many women achieve improvement of vaginal atrophy with one or more of the following types of treatment:
- Kegel exercises to improve circulation, which can boost lubrication
- Vaginal moisturizers
- Vaginal lubricants applied before intercourse
- Prescription estrogen medications or creams
- Vaginal estrogen ring that releases a low dose of estrogen
Some women benefit from the use of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), a treatment that involves the use of plant-derived compounds that are chemically identical to the hormones that naturally occur in your body. When implanted under your skin as pellets, the treatment releases a consistent level of bioidentical hormones for up to several months.
Find out more about the signs of vaginal atrophy and ways to improve symptoms that interfere with your sexual function and quality of life. Call Ovation Wellness today to schedule a medical consultation.