Vaginal atrophy, also called atrophic vaginitis, is one of the disorders that develop due to decreased levels of estrogen. It often affects menopausal women, but it also occurs at young ages, especially after pregnancy.
Its main characteristic is the thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls, which usually comes with loss of lubrication. In addition, the woman may have sexual dysfunction since intercourse becomes a painful experience.
However, several therapeutic methods are available to alleviate their symptoms, since their lack of control can reduce the quality of life. This time we want to review its main symptoms and some treatments that can be taken into account.
What are the causes of vaginal atrophy?
The main cause of vaginal atrophy is the decrease in estrogen that is produced by a sudden hormonal change. It usually occurs after menopause and, in fact, between 40% and 60% of women get to experience their symptoms at this stage.
As the level of these female hormones decreases, the vaginal tissues become more fragile and lose the fluids that protect them. However , it is not an exclusive condition of that period. Atrophy can also occur during:
- The years before the menopause (perimenopause)
- After the surgical removal of both ovaries (surgical menopause)
- Hormone treatment of breast cancer
- After the application of pelvic radiation therapy to treat cancer
- Period of pregnancy and lactation
It is important to note that not all women who reach the stage of menopause suffer from vaginal atrophy. Despite this, some factors may affect the chances of developing it more safely .
- Excessive consumption of tobacco
- Not having had vaginal deliveries
- Lack of sexual activity
- Treatments with drugs that lower estrogen levels
- Intensive physical exercise
- Continuous exposure to stress
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Symptoms of vaginal atrophy
The estrogen deficiency that occurs during menopause or under certain conditions usually triggers a varied symptomatology in each patient. In what has to do with vaginal atrophy, affects the quality of sexual life and urinary health . Its main symptoms are:
- Loss of natural lubrication of the vagina
- Vaginal pain or discomfort during intercourse (dyspareunia)
- Mild bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Narrowing and shortening of the vaginal canal
- Stinging or burning when urinating
- Abundant vaginal discharge
- Itching and vaginal irritation
- Tendency to develop urinary infections
- Urinary incontinence
- Vaginal prolapse (the vagina loses its usual location)
Diagnosis of vaginal atrophy
One of the most important parts for the diagnosis of vaginal atrophy is the anamnesis, an interview made by the doctor about the symptoms of the patient . Through a brief interrogation the professional can obtain the necessary information to suspect this disease.
Subsequently, a physical and gynecological examination is performed. First a speculum is introduced to be able to observe the appearance of the vagina. At this point the doctor can determine if the vaginal tissue is thin and red. You can also examine the cervix and check for signs of prolapse.
Other tests that may be suggested are:
- Urine analysis
- Acid balance test
- Blood test that includes the hormonal profile
Treatment of vaginal atrophy
One of the major concerns of women with vaginal atrophy are the effects that pathology produces on sexual life. Luckily, today there are many treatments that minimize the symptoms so that they do not represent a problem during sex or any other area.
Changes in lifestyle
First, a series of lifestyle improvements are suggested, as women should avoid those habits that affect their vaginal health. This also allows adopting practices that are beneficial both for hormonal control and for regulating the pH of the intimate area.
- Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and tobacco
- Adopt a healthy diet
- Eat estrogen supplements
- Do regular physical exercise
- Have an active sex life
- Increase the consumption of water or healthy drinks
- Have good intimate hygiene habits
- Avoid the use of perfumes or irritating soaps
The application of some non-hormonal treatments fail to reduce the atrophy of the vaginal wall, but they do minimize the dryness that is produced by it. In this way, symptoms such as pain in intercourse and vaginal stinging are reduced or disappear.
The available options are:
- Vaginal moisturizer: Replens, Vagisil Feminine Moisturizer, Hyalo Gyn, among others.
- Water or silicone based lubricant to reduce discomfort during intercourse.
When the symptoms get worse or do not improve with the previous treatments, the doctor suggests using estrogen hormone therapy. This type of medication can be used locally or systemically. The most used are:
- Vaginal cream with estrogen
- Vaginal estrogen ring
- Vaginal estrogen tablet
- Pills, patches or estrogen gel
Do you have symptoms of vaginal atrophy? It is very important that you consult the gynecologist . Although many prefer to ignore it because of embarrassment or because it is “normal” because of age, it is essential to receive treatment so that it does not interfere with health.