Vaginal atrophy is a common condition that affects mainly women who have gone through menopause. It results from the body’s estrogen levels dropping, which can thin, dry, and lessen the elasticity of the vaginal tissues. When a woman reaches menopause, which typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, her ovaries stop producing eggs. Additionally, she stops getting periods. If she has gone 12 months or more without getting a period, that is considered postmenopausal. The symptoms of vaginal atrophy can be uncomfortable and distressing, including vaginal dryness and itching, painful intercourse, and urinary symptoms. These can significantly impact a patient’s quality of life and reproductive health.
If you are looking for a trusted practitioner in the area, look no further than OBGYN Clinic in Palm Beach, Florida. We understand that gynecological exams can be sensitive and personal, so we strive to create a comfortable and welcoming environment for all our patients. Whether you’re due for a routine check-up or experiencing symptoms of vaginal atrophy, we offer a range of services to meet your needs. Schedule an appointment for a gynecological exam and let our experienced team of healthcare professionals take care of you.
What is vaginal atrophy, and how is it related to atrophic vaginitis and genitourinary syndrome of menopause? These are common questions that many women have when experiencing symptoms of this uncomfortable issue. It occurs when vaginal walls become thin, dry, and less elastic than usual due to hormonal shifts, especially when levels of estrogen drop.
A specific kind of vaginal atrophy known as atrophic vaginitis results in irritation and dryness of the vaginal walls. This medical condition frequently accompanies vaginal discomfort during sexual activity, ending in itchiness, burning, or soreness. Vaginal dryness, pain during urination, and a reduction in vaginal lubrication during sex are other typical signs of atrophic vaginitis.
Genitourinary syndrome of menopause is a more comprehensive term that contains all of the symptoms associated with vaginal atrophy, including atrophic vaginitis. In addition to vaginal discomfort, it can also lead to urinary symptoms, such as frequent urination, urinary tract infections, and urinary incontinence.
Like with any other illness, not all patients will experience the same symptoms, and most of them will even be asymptomatic. However, some of the most common signs include:
- Vaginal dryness
- Pain during sexual activities or penetration
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse
- Itching or burning in the vaginal area
- Recurrent urinary infections
- Discomfort or pain during urination
- Decreased vaginal lubrication during sex
- Vaginal discharge
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s essential to speak with your healthcare provider to determine if vaginal atrophy is the cause of the issue.
Who Is At Risk for Vaginal Atrophy?
Even though it can affect women of all ages, vaginal atrophy is most frequently linked to menopause. The normal decline in estrogen levels that occurs in menopausal patients can cause the vaginal tissues to shrink, dry up, and become inflamed. Menopause is one condition that might raise your risk for vaginal atrophy, but it’s not the only one.
The following are some of the factors that may increase the risk of vaginal atrophy:
- Breast cancer treatment – Breast cancer survivors who have undergone specific therapies, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, have an increased chance of getting atrophic vaginitis due to hormonal changes.
- Surgical menopause – A sudden decline in estrogen levels may occur in women with a hysterectomy or their ovaries removed, which can cause vaginal atrophy.
- Certain medications – Some drugs, such as those used to treat endometriosis or fibroids, can lower estrogen levels and increase the risk of vaginal tissues thinning and drying up.
- Other medical conditions – Health issues such as Sjogren’s syndrome or autoimmune disorders may increase the chance of vaginal atrophy.
- Smoking – It has been shown to improve the risk of atrophic vaginitis and lead to many other health problems as well.
Women more likely to suffer from vaginal atrophy should be aware of the signs and consult a physician if they notice any discomfort or changes in their vaginal health.
For your doctor to diagnose you with this condition, they need to examine your vagina and surrounding area during the physical examination to look for thinning, dryness, or irritation. A pelvic exam may also be done to look for any abnormalities.
In addition to all of these, your healthcare provider may recommend specific tests to help diagnose vaginal atrophy. These tests may include:
- Vaginal pH test – It measures the acidity of the vagina. A high pH level may indicate a lack of estrogen and suggest vaginal atrophy.
- Blood test – A lack of estrogen can be shown through blood testing and other hormonal changes.
- Pelvic ultrasound – This examination can find any discrepancies by using sound waves to make images of your pelvic organs.
If your healthcare provider determines that you have vaginal atrophy, they will work with you to develop a treatment plan that addresses your symptoms and any underlying conditions. It’s important to note that the symptoms of atrophic vaginitis can be similar to those of other conditions, such as yeast infections or some sexually transmitted infections. If you are experiencing any vaginal discomfort or changes in your vaginal health, it’s essential to speak with your gynecologist to determine the underlying cause and receive the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
As soon as you are diagnosed with vaginal atrophy, you will be given a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. Although this issue can be overwhelming, fortunately, several options are available. The most common treatment is hormone therapy, which involves using estrogen or a combination of estrogen and progesterone to increase hormone levels in the body. It can be administered in numerous ways, including oral pills, vaginal creams, or a vaginal ring. These can help alleviate symptoms of vaginal atrophy, such as dryness, itching, and soreness during sex.
However, not all women may benefit from hormone therapy, especially those who have a history of specific illnesses like breast cancer or blood clots. In these cases, there are other methods available, including vaginal moisturizers and lubricants or vaginal estrogen therapy. Vaginal moisturizers and lubricants can help to relieve dryness and discomfort during sexual activity. These products can be used regularly to maintain vaginal health and reduce the risk of vaginal atrophy. On the other hand, estrogen therapy uses low-dose estrogen that is applied directly to the vagina as a cream, tablet, or ring. This therapy can help relieve dryness and discomfort without disrupting hormone levels in the rest of the body.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, vaginal atrophy is a common condition that can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including vaginal dryness and itching. It’s often associated with genitourinary syndrome of menopause but can also occur in women who have not yet reached menopause. If you are experiencing symptoms of vaginal atrophy, it’s essential to speak with your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment. Hormone treatment, vaginal lubricants and moisturizers, and vaginal estrogen therapy are just some of the potential choices.