Vaginal atrophy — ever heard of it?
If not, you’re not alone. In fact, you might even have it and not be aware of the issue. Vaginal atrophy is just as it sounds — a deterioration of cells in the vagina. Also known as atrophic vaginitis, this condition occurs when the vagina’s walls begin to thin, dry out, and even become inflamed.
As you might have guessed, vaginal atrophy typically happens to women as they age, most often during or after menopause, when estrogen production decreases within the body and the vagina loses its youthful elasticity. However, it can also happen in the years leading up to menopause (perimenopause), as estrogen levels also tend to drop during this time.
Symptoms of vaginal atrophy
If you’re wondering whether you’re suffering from this uncomfortable condition, here are some of the most common symptoms:
- Intercourse may be painful
- You bleed lightly after sex
- Your vagina may burn at times
- It may also feel overly dry
- You experience vaginal discharge
- It burns when you urinate
- There’s also an urgency to urinate
- You experience urinary tract infections
- Your vaginal canal becomes shorter and tighter
Urinary problems are quite common in women experiencing vaginal atrophy — so much so that doctors often call the condition “genitourinary syndrome of menopause.” GSM doesn’t happen to all women, although it is quite common. It’s even more common if you’ve had your ovaries surgically removed, if you’ve endured pelvic radiation as cancer treatment, or some kind of hormonal disruption after breast cancer.
If you’re a woman who’s had any type of cancer and experienced chemotherapy, you’re also more apt to experience this uncomfortable condition. Other risk factors include smoking, never having birthed a baby, and lack of sex. Luckily, there exists simple and effective ways to treat vaginal atrophy. Let’s find out what those are.
Treatment for vaginal atrophy
To undo some of the vaginal dryness, moisturizers like K-Y Liquibeads, or Replens are typically prescribed. If you’re sexually active, water-based lubricants like K-Y Jelly and Astroglide are helpful. These methods are simple, over-the-counter means of improving the condition. When you need something more, your OBGYN might prescribe estrogen therapy.
Estrogen therapy comes in many forms. Topically, they include vaginal estrogen cream, a vaginal estrogen ring, and vaginal estrogen tablets. Systemically, estrogen therapy looks a bit different. Estrogen patches and pills, or an estrogen-progesterone patch may be prescribed.
As always, the food you put into your body plays an important role in all healing. Eating to balance hormones can help support the health of your vagina. Locally grown organic fruits and vegetables, lots of pure drinking water, and high-fiber foods like avocados, berries, legumes, nuts and seeds are foods to eat regularly.
Laser treatment for vaginal atrophy
Vaginal atrophy can also be treated with a minimally invasive laser procedure that stimulates the production of collagen in the vaginal walls. Laser vaginal revitalization naturally increases blood flow and lubrication to help improve the natural function of the vagina. There is no anesthesia required, and many women report noticeable changes after just one session.
Keep in mind that you’re a unique woman, and there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment. Pay attention to your body and proceed with lots of self-love and self-compassion. Be honest with your OBGYN about what feels right and what doesn’t. Treating vaginal atrophy can be a positive experience. Let your doctor and your female intuition be your guide.