What is Vaginal Atrophy?

Vaginal atrophy is a condition wherein vaginal elasticity, and secretions get reduced along with the thinning of its epithelium. It occurs mainly due to a decline in the estrogen levels in the woman’s body. It is a common problem in women and is more prevalent in post-menopausal women. 

It occurs as a result of decreased estrogen levels. Estrogen hormone has a role in exfoliating epithelial cells of the vagina, thus allowing the replacement of damaged old cells of the vagina with newer healthy cells. When there is a decline in the hormone estrogen levels, the replacement process is hindered, leading to vaginal atrophy.

Symptoms of Vaginal Atrophy

Vaginal infections – Infections due to unhygienic conditions in and around the vagina

UTIs (urinary tract infections) – Infections in the organs of a urinary system like the urinary bladder, ureters, and urethral opening.

Vaginal dryness – Vagina lacking lubrication 

Burning – feeling of burning inside the vagina and around the vaginal opening

Irritation – itching or irritation around the vagina

Dyspareunia – Consistent pain in the genitals after or before having sex.

Bleeding after coitus – Bleeding from the vagina after intercourse

Dysuria – Pain while urinating

Causes of Vaginal Atrophy

Vaginal atrophy is mainly caused as a result of a decrease in estrogen levels. Some of the other causes are:

  • 1. Lactation
  • 2. Hypothalamic amenorrhea
  • 3. Anti-estrogen medicines (danazol and leuprolide) for the treatment of endometriosis and uterine fibroids. 
  • 4. Note: Estrogen production dramatically declined in menopause.
  •  

Other causes of decline in estrogen levels in the woman’s body:

Vaginal Atrophy Treatment

Two types of treatment for vaginal atrophy:

  • 1. Non-hormonal vaginal atrophy treatment 
  • 2. Vaginal/topical moisturizers ( longer-lasting impact )

Lubricants (give short-term relief from vaginal dryness at the time of intercourse)

Hormonal Therapy for Vaginal Atrophy

Hormonal replacement therapies (HRT) like

Systemic (oral estrogen replacement) therapy – Therapy recommended for patients who experience hot flashes, flushes, and night sweats which are some of the post-menopausal symptoms. 

Localized hormone therapy:

  • 1. Intravaginal topical estrogen – Vaginal creams that are advised to be applied daily, intravaginal capsules
  • 2. Estrogen-releasing ring (intravaginal release) – Release small amounts of estrogen.
  • 3. Vaginal DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) 
  •  

Natural Treatments for Vaginal Atrophy 

Diet 

Maintenance of healthy body weight and body mass index also helps keep the body’s estrogen levels at normal levels. Adding foods containing plant estrogens like soy products, soybeans, or flax seeds. Drinking enough amounts of water and keeping the body hydrated may also help. Limiting the consumption of alcohol and caffeine is also advised.

Exercises

 Regular exercises help maintain the flow of blood and hormonal balance. Walking at least 30 minutes daily will be a good start. Avoid doing intense exercises that may worsen vaginal itching and dryness.

Natural oils and moisturizers

To avoid friction in the vagina during intercourse, applying oils and moisturizers would help. Alleviating dryness can be achieved by using natural oils like Coconut Oil, almond oil, and olive oil according to the type of skin. 

Complications of vaginal atrophy

The complication arises if the vaginal atrophy is not identified early and treated at the appropriate stage. There can be the following complications:

  • 1. Intense pelvic pain 
  • 2. Increased vaginal discomfort
  • 3. Recurrent infections in the genitals and urinary tract
  •  

Vaginal Atrophy Diagnosis

Diagnosis of vaginal atrophy is done on the basis of symptoms reported by the patients. Some tests to diagnose vaginal atrophy include:

Pelvic examination

The doctor diagnoses vaginal atrophy by examining the pelvis and visually examining the vagina, cervix, and genitalia.

Urine test

Diagnosis of vaginal atrophy can also be done by collecting urine and testing the abnormalities.

pH test to Check for the Acid Balance

Vaginal fluid samples are taken to test for the acidic or basic nature of the fluids. A paper strip pH indicator can also be used for testing the acid balance. 

when to See a Doctor

Vaginal atrophy affects both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women. The symptoms of vaginal atrophy are mostly not identified early to help manage and improve the quality of life. It is important to convey the issues associated with genitourinary health as soon as possible to prevent further complications

Frequently Asked Questions

Is vaginal atrophy reversible?

Vaginal atrophy is reversible by “estrogen therapy.” Estrogen therapy is the most commonly used and effective way of reversing vaginal atrophy. In some cases, estrogen therapy doesn’t work, and other therapies are meant for them.

What is vaginal atrophy? How can it be treated?

Vaginal atrophy is the abnormality wherein vaginal epithelium becomes thin, and there is a decline in vaginal elasticity and cervical secretions. Such a condition arises due to alterations in levels of the hormone estrogen. It can be treated by giving estrogen therapy to the patients.

How to deal with vaginal atrophy?

Vaginal atrophy can be calmed down by using the following:

  • 1. Vaginal moisturizers
  • 2. Water-based lubricants
  •  

The moisturizers and lubricants effectively help restore moisture and help in reducing the pain and discomfort caused during sexual intercourse. Keeping the vaginal area lubricated is important to prevent its exhaustive dryness. It is advised to use water-based moisturizers to help with vaginal atrophy. 

What does vaginal atrophy look like?

Vaginal atrophy makes the appearance of the vagina dry, pale, red, and inflamed with the patch.

How to get estrogen in our body in natural ways?

To get estrogen in our body, soybeans, flax seeds, peaches, and berries should be consumed to get phytoestrogens that mimic estrogen hormone in the body.

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