Vaginal atrophy or atrophic vaginitis is a condition that causes the thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal tissue. This condition occurs due to lack of estrogen and is therefore common in pre-menopausal and menopausal women. However, vaginal atrophy may also occur due to medical conditions and treatments that affect estrogen production. Fortunately, it is possible to treat vaginal atrophy and relieve symptoms to improve the quality of life.
Vaginal Atrophy Symptoms
- Vaginal dryness
- Genital itching
- Vaginal burning, especially during urination
- Unusual vaginal discharge (usually yellow)
- Spotting and bleeding
- Haematuria: Blood in urine
- Incontinence: A sense of urgency to urinate or being unable to hold urine
- Frequent urination
- Dyspareunia: Pain during and after sexual intercourse due to dryness and inflammation
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Shortening and tightening of the vagina
What Causes Vaginal Atrophy?
Vaginal atrophy occurs because of reduced estrogen production in the body. Generally, women experience lower estrogen production as perimenopause and after menopause. This is a natural process, which means that a significant number of women experience vaginal atrophy. The lowered estrogen production causes thinning and loss in elasticity of vaginal tissue. Vaginal lubrication also decreases, and the acid balance of the vagina becomes affected.
However, there are other reasons why women could experience lowered estrogen production and develop vaginal atrophy:
- Breast cancer hormonal treatments increase the risk of developing vaginal atrophy
- Chemotherapy and radiation cancer treatments, especially in the pelvic area, reduce ovarian function, causing low estrogen production.
- Lack of sex: Frequent sex increases blood flow to the vaginal tissue and improves skin elasticity. Women who do not have sex are at higher risk of developing vaginal atrophy.
- Loss of estrogen postpartum
- Oophorectomy: This is the surgical removal of one or both of the ovaries. Your doctor may recommend oophorectomy if you have ovarian cancer, endometriosis, ovarian torsion, benign ovarian tumours, abscess in the ovaries or fallopian tubes, or are at risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Smoking increases the risk of developing vaginal atrophy
- Taking birth control pills
How to Treat Vaginal Atrophy?
These are over-the-counter gels, such as Gynagyn VA, that you apply on vaginal tissue to reduce itchiness, inflammation, and dryness. In addition, they provide moisturizing for vaginal tissue to avoid complications that result from dryness.
Lubricants, especially during sexual intercourse, are highly recommended. Lubricants moisturize vaginal tissue and reduce friction that may occur during sexual activity.
Hormone treatments require specialized care to find the right hormonal balance for your body. Unlike moisturizers and vaginal lubricants that treat symptoms, hormone treatments resolve acid balance problems in the vagina and encourage self-healing of vaginal tissue. However, some vaginal moisturizers like Gynagyn VA, also restore the natural vaginal pH through the combination of Hyaluronic Acid and Lactic acid.
- Low-dose vaginal estrogen therapy: These are treatments that localize treatment to the vaginal area and are not meant to provide estrogen for the whole body. The treatments are administered as suppositories (pills that you insert in the vagina), creams (apply on the vaginal tissue), or rings (inserted in the vagina and replaced every three months).
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): This treatment is also called systemic hormone therapy. This is the replacement of hormones in the entire body. The treatment not only reduces vaginal atrophy but also causes fewer hot flashes, improves bone health, improves mood and sleep quality, and overall vaginal health.
HRT manually introduces estrogen and progestin, among other hormones, to the body. However, HRT isn't a suitable treatment for everyone. People undergoing HRT treatments are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer, clotting problems, weight gain, mood changes, headaches, and unusual abdomen cramps. Your healthcare provider will determine if you are a candidate for hormone replacement therapy.
Does Vaginal Atrophy Cause Urinary Problems?
Vaginal atrophy can cause urinary problems too. Due to this, doctors often refer to vaginal atrophy and accompanying symptoms as genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM). Many women in pre-menopause and menopause often experience GSM due to disruptions in estrogen production. The symptoms are as discussed above - vaginal dryness, itching, recurrent UTIs, inflammation of vaginal tissue, and pain and discomfort during sex and urination.
For most patients, the most challenging part about having GSM is the lower quality of life. The genitals become uncomfortable, and activities such as urination and sex become painful. Treatments, therefore, focus on relieving symptoms or regulating hormone levels to bring back "normalcy."
Vaginal Atrophy Diagnosis
If you are experiencing pain during urination, during, and after sex, you should see your doctor. In addition, it's essential to consider a doctor's visit if you have tried over-the-counter treatments such as vaginal moisturizers, and they do not work.
It's also important to note that vaginal atrophy and yeast infections share symptoms such as itchiness, dryness, inflammation, and pain. However, yeast infections are fungal infections, while vaginal atrophy occurs because of a lack of estrogen. Consulting your Gynaecologist is the best way to confirm either of the conditions.
The tests for vaginal atrophy or GSM may include:
- A pelvic examination: Your doctor inspects your pelvic organs through visual checks and physical touch to check for anomalies. This physical examination checks the visible and reachable parts of your genitalia, vagina, and cervix. During the physical examination, the doctor checks for whitening around your vaginal entrance, minor cuts and bruises on vaginal tissue, swelling, dryness, a bladder that's lowered into your vagina, lesions (tissue injuries), and loss of pubic hair.
- A urine test: The sample of your urine is tested for urinary tract infection symptoms.
- An avid balance test: This simple test checks the pH of your vaginal fluids.
- Ultrasound and microscopy: An ultrasound or microscopy may be necessary to inspect internal tissue and organs.
Get Relief from Vaginal Atrophy Today
Fortunately, you can relieve symptoms such as dryness, inflammation, itching, and dyspareunia with moisturizing vaginal gels. Gynagyn VA restores your vaginal pH balance and restores healing of the vaginal tissue. Follow up with Gynafresh VW to restore the freshness of your vaginal tissue and enjoy further relief from itching and dryness. With sufficient moisture, lubrication, and vaginal tissue health, you can look forward to relief during urination, sexual intercourse, and day-to-day life.