Vaginal Dryness Overview
Women who experience vaginal dryness should immediately seek the advice of a medical practitioner in order to test for any underlying conditions. These include urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, menopause and cancer. Most commonly, however, vaginal dryness is a symptom of menopause. During this time, a woman’s hormonal levels fluctuate. As estrogen levels drop, a number of changes occur in a woman’s body. These include other symptoms of menopause like hot flashes and mood swings, but vaginal dryness is one of the more common symptoms of menopause. The vaginal wall thins and dries because of the lower estrogen levels. It also becomes less elastic, leading to vaginal dryness.
Common Symptoms Of Vaginal Dryness:
- Light Bleeding During Sex
- Painful Intercourse
- General Discomfort
- Urinary Frequency
Menopause Vaginal Dryness Symptoms
Vaginal dryness during menopause affects different women with varying severity. In some instances, women do not experience this symptom at all. However, if a woman does experience vaginal dryness, she is likely to experience some of the following symptoms.
1. Loss of Libido:
One of the earliest indicators that a woman is in menopause is the loss of libido. In some cases, a woman experiences loss of libido as a direct result of vaginal dryness because she experiences pain during sexual intercourse. In other cases, however, a lower libido may be caused by hormonal shifts in the body, and are not linked to vaginal dryness at all. In this case, the symptom usually goes away within a short period of time.
2. Vaginal Bleeding:
Vaginal bleeding can sometimes be mistaken for a menstrual period, or spotting. However, this bleeding usually occurs from the vaginal walls as a result of dryness and cracking, and may be accompanied by pain. If a woman notices spotting, or has a very light period accompanied by pain, she should seek medical attention in order to determine if the bleeding is menstrual related or not.
3. Vaginal Itching:
A woman who has vaginal dryness may experience intense itching in the lower parts of the vagina or around the opening of the vagina. This itching may be accompanied by a stinging sensation, and may occur at any time of the day or night.
4. Painful Intercourse:
Because the vaginal walls are dry and less elastic, a woman with vaginal dryness may experience pain during intercourse. This pain may or may not be accompanied by bleeding or spotting.
5. Loss of Intimacy:
A lack of interest in physical intimacy during menopause is usually linked to a number of issues, with painful or uncomfortable sexual intercourse being one of them. A woman may also lose interest in intimacy because of the high stress levels brought about by the other menopause symptoms she may be experiencing.
6. Vaginal Atrophy:
Vaginal atrophy is a condition when the vaginal walls get thinner as a result of menopause. This is the main symptom of vaginal dryness, as the thinning of the walls and loss of moisture makes the walls dry and less elastic.
7. Yeast Infections:
Yeast infections result from an overgrowth of fungi normally found in the vaginal area. This fungus is known as Candida. Yeast infections do sometimes lead to, or aggravate, vaginal dryness in menopausal women.
8. Inability to Climax:
A menopausal woman may find that, because she experiences painful or uncomfortable sexual intercourse and decreased libido, she is unable to climax. This is also caused by the dry vaginal walls which do not self-lubricate even during intercourse.
9. Burning Sensation:
A burning or stinging sensation during intercourse or when passing urine can also be a symptom of dry vaginal walls.
If a woman has vaginal dryness during menopause, she may experience pain in the vaginal area. This is because the vaginal wall is thinner and less lubricated, making it susceptible to cracking.
11. Feelings of Pressure:
Feelings of pressure in the lower vaginal area may occur as a symptom of vaginal dryness.
Causes of Vaginal Dryness
1. Physical Causes:
There are a number of physical factors that can speed up the onset of vaginal dryness, or aggravate the condition in menopausal women. These physical causes include certain types of medications that lower estrogen levels in the body and smoking. One research study has shown that birth control pills can also cause vaginal dryness in some women.
2. Emotional Causes:
A research study run by Duramed Pharmaceuticals (now known as Teva Women’s Health, Inc.) found that women were less prepared than men for the sexual changes brought about by age. This leads to anxiety and stress because of vaginal dryness, bleeding and painful intercourse. This anxiety often aggravates the problem. Furthermore, because women are less prepared for it, they are not aware of treatments that can assist them to recover from this menopause symptom.
3. Environmental Causes:
Environmental factors that can lead to vaginal dryness include allergic reactions to products like soaps or detergents. Douching can also cause vaginal dryness. This is the process of cleaning the vagina by using a liquid preparation (usually vinegar and water).
When is Vaginal Dryness Most Likely to Occur?
The most likely period in a woman’s life when she may experience vaginal dryness is during menopause. Research studies have shown that anywhere between 40% and 60% of menopausal women experience this symptom during the menopausal period.
Risks of Menopause Vaginal Dryness
There are several risk factors which can aggravate vaginal dryness during menopause. These include high stress levels, which are common during menopause because of the changes in a woman’s body and the life changes she may be going through at the same time. Other risk factors include anxiety, birth control pills and smoking.
Diagnosis of Menopause Vaginal Dryness
In order to diagnose vaginal dryness, a doctor will usually run the following tests and exams:
- Pelvic Exam: Physically inspecting the vagina, cervix and rectum for signs of vaginal dryness
- Urine Test: If you have pain when urinating, your doctor may take a urine sample to test for any urinary conditions.
- Pap Test: This involves collecting cervical cell samples and vaginal secretions, which are sent to a lab for testing.
Treatments of Menopause Vaginal Dryness
There are various treatment options available to menopausal women who suffer from vaginal dryness. The most common is hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which works by replacing the hormone estrogen in a woman’s body. HRT can be taken in various forms, including a tablet, a gel or by using patches. Other common treatments of vaginal dryness include a vaginal estrogen ring, an estrogen tablet or an estrogen cream.
Where to Get More Information?
In order to better understand this condition, it is recommended that a woman who suspects she may be experiencing vaginal dryness should seek the advice of her doctor or gynecologist. An herbalist or other specialist in alternative medicines will also be able to advice a woman on the best alternative options to combat vaginal dryness. A menopause support group is also an invaluable source of advice and information from women who are also experiencing the same symptom.