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Vaginal Atrophy Symptoms & Treatment Options

If you have given birth to one or more children and/or are post-menopausal, you may find yourself experiencing discomfort from sexual intercourse or facing a host of symptoms caused by vaginal atrophy. According to Medical News Today (MNT), vaginal atrophy affects up to 75 percent of all women after menopause, but it can also affect women after child birth. Although this condition is common, women often do not seek medical advice, probably because they see it as a normal sign of aging or due to the taboo surrounding discussions of sexuality and aging, explains MNT.

The good news is, women do not need to suffer in silence as there are several options for lessening the symptoms.To understand the treatment options, you should first understand what vaginal atrophy is and how to recognize the symptoms.

What is vaginal atrophy?

According to Mayo Clinic, vaginal atrophy, also referred to as atrophic vaginitis, is defined as the thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls. It may cause discomfort and may change the appearance of the labia and vulva. It may interfere with the comfort of clothing or cause discomfort during physical activities.

What causes vaginal atrophy?

The most common cause of vaginal atrophy is decreased estrogen levels. While this occurs naturally when women experience menopause, it is not the only reason you may experience low levels of estrogen. For some women, estrogen levels drop temporarily after childbirth and during nursing and may cause short-term symptoms. Surgery to remove the ovaries may also cause vaginal atrophy and the associated symptoms.

Some medical conditions treated by lowering estrogen levels, such as breast cancer, infertility and fibroids, can also result in vaginal atrophy. Likewise, in some cases it can be brought on by seemingly unrelated conditions, such as too much exercise, stress or depression, says MNT.

What are the symptoms of vaginal atrophy?

The primary symptom of vaginal atrophy is pain or dryness during intercourse, but that is not the only symptom many women find uncomfortable. It may cause irritation when wearing certain clothing, cause urinary tract infections, and cause discomfort when participating in some physical activities such as bike riding. It can also cause incontinence, painful urination and an increased frequency of urination. 

What are the treatment options for vaginal atrophy?

The treatment your doctor prescribes depends on your personal medical history and the symptoms that cause you the most difficulty. The most common treatments are:

Vaginal Lubricants: If your primary complaint is pain or dryness during intercourse, an OTC vaginal lubricant may solve the problem. These lubricants are used at the time of intercourse and help to moisten and lubricate the vagina, easing dryness and pain.

Estrogen Lubricants: If OTC lubricants are ineffective your doctor can prescribe estrogen creams or gels applied to the vaginal area prior to intercourse. These lubricants provide a source of estrogen and are often more effective than vaginal lubricants alone.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): You may benefit from taking oral estrogen to balance your normal premenopausal estrogen levels. Your doctor may prescribe HRT therapy if you are bothered by several vaginal atrophy symptoms. If you choose this route, talk to your doctor about the health risks associated with HRT.

Vaginal Rejuvenation: Vaginal rejuvenation surgery, also known as vaginoplasty or  female genital plastic surgery, tightens the walls of the vagina and reshapes the labia and vulva. While this surgery can be performed for cosmetic reasons, it can also improve or eliminate annoying symptoms of vaginal atrophy. It can improve incontinence, may reduce urinary tract infections, and eliminate discomfort from tight fitting clothing (such as jeans) or from activities like bike riding.

What should you do if vaginal atrophy is causing problems?

Talk to your primary care physician first. He can determine whether your symptoms are from vaginal atrophy or whether you have some other medical condition causing similar symptoms. He can also refer you to the appropriate specialist to best  treat your symptoms.