Vaginal atrophy is a condition that is real to many women. Some-especially those who are ignorant of what it is-choose to suffer in silence. This not only destroys them but also destroys their marital relationship; they would either undergo a painful sexual experience or deny their partner sex without any proper explanation as why they cannot participate. No one needs suffer in silence. There are even women groups who are coming up in bid to help women suffering from vaginal atrophy to cope up with this condition. In this article we define what vaginal atrophy is, the symptoms, causes, risks and treatments that could be available for menopausal women undergoing vaginal atrophy.
What is Vaginal Atrophy?
Vaginal atrophy is also called atrophic vaginitis. It is a condition where the vaginal wall gets thinner, drier and inflamed as a result of reducing levels of estrogen in the body. In a woman’s life, estrogen levels reduce during two stages of a woman; during breastfeeding and after menopause. During these stages of life when low estrogen levels lead to vaginal atrophy, a woman may find intercourse very painful. The pain associated with intercourse leads to low interest in sex. A healthy vaginal path leads to a healthy urinary track, but during this time when the vagina is not healthy, the urinary tract may also not be healthy.
Symptoms of Vaginal Atrophy
Vaginal atrophy manifests itself in moderate through severe symptoms. Here are the symptoms of vaginal atrophy;
- Vaginal dryness
- Discharge through the vagina
- A burning sensation in the vagina
- Itching of the genitals
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Urgent feeling for urination
- Increase in the infections of the urinary tract
- Bleeding that is light after intercourse
- Being uncomfortable during intercourse
- A decrease in vaginal lubrication in the moment of sex
- The vaginal tract shortens and tightens
Estimates show that more than a half of menopausal women undergo the above symptoms in silence; they either fear embarrassment or just choose to resign themselves to this fate. In the event you have painful intercourse that is not resolved by healthy lubricants, please make it a point to visit the doctor.
Causes of Vaginal Atrophy
The major cause of vaginal atrophy is the reduction in the body’s production of estrogen in the body. Less estrogen is responsible of the drying, thinning, and inflammation of the vaginal walls that make them more fragile and less elastic.
Here are situations that could lead to low estrogen levels in a woman’s body;
- At the end of menopause
- During peri-menopause
- While breast feeding
- When there is surgical removal of the ovaries
- While undergoing therapy for cancer that involves pelvic radiation
- After having chemotherapy treatment for cancer
- It could also come as a side effect for hormonal treatment for breast cancer
Not all women undergo vaginal atrophy. For those who undergo vaginal atrophy, regular sexual activity could help ease the atrophy in the vagina
Risk Factors for Vaginal Atrophy
There are factors that aggravate vaginal atrophy, they include the following;
- Smoking: Smoking greatly endangers an individual’s life in many ways. For women, smoking is known to affect the blood flow to the vagina and other tissues so that these areas fail to get enough oxygen. Naturally occurring estrogens in the body are inhibited by smoking; smoking also leads to early menopause among smokers.
- Failure to Deliver Through the Vaginal Canal: Women who have never delivered through the vaginal canal stand a great chance of experiencing vaginal dryness.
- Lack of sexual Activity: Women who lack sexual activity risk vaginal dryness. Frequent sexual activity activates blood flow to the vagina making it more elastic.
There are complications that could arise as a result of having vaginal dryness. They include the following;
There is a possibility of having infections. Experiencing vaginal dryness leads to a change in the acidity of the vagina which encourages infections in the vagina.
Secondly there is the possibility of urinary infections. An unhealthy vagina leads to an infection prone urinary tract. It could lead to a burning sensation in the urinary tract, an urgency feeling during urination, and increased frequency of urination. For some the infections in the urinary tract increase with vaginal dryness.
There are several ways to determine whether what you are going through is vaginal dryness or not.
- Pelvic Examination: During this examination, the doctor visually checks out the genitalia, the cervix and vagina for any signs of bulges from organs like the bladder and rectum.
- Urine Test: During this test, the doctor will examine for any urinary symptoms.
- Acid Balance Test: A sample of vaginal fluids is taken for testing for the acidity in the vagina.
There are several ways to address vaginal dryness. They include the following;
- The use of vaginal moisturizers
- Use of water-based lubricants
In the situation where the symptoms are persistent, there could be need to use estrogen therapy that could involve topical estrogen or systematic estrogen therapy.
While the effects of vaginal atrophy are severe, there is remedy available. It is important for the woman suffering from vaginal atrophy to share it with a confidant especially her spouse. Together they can cope as they find treatment.