Topic: What is vaginal atrophy? The condition that affects more than half of postmenopausal people.
Vaginal atrophy is a condition in which the lining of the vagina becomes thinner and drier. It is common during times of hormonal change, like menopause. In fact, vaginal atrophy affects more than half of menopausal people.
While the condition can result in itching, burning, and painful intercourse, there are ways to treat and manage its related symptoms.
The most common symptoms of vaginal atrophy are vaginal dryness, and pain during intercourse, says Christine Greves, MD, an OB-GYN with the Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.
Other symptoms of vaginal atrophy include:
- Vaginal burning during urination
- Decreased lubrication during sex
- Light bleeding after intercourse
- Frequent urination
- Urinary incontinence
Vaginal atrophy can also increase your risk of vaginal and urinary tract infections and sometimes cause bleeding, Greves says. This is because thinner and drier vaginal tissue is more prone to tearing.
What causes vaginal atrophy?
Vaginal atrophy is caused by a reduction in the hormone estrogen, says Huong Nghiem-Eilbeck, MD, an OB-GYN with AltaMed Health Services. Estrogen helps maintain the vagina’s elasticity, thickness, lubrication, and pH balance.
This explains why menopause is the leading cause of vaginal atrophy, since during this period you produce less estrogen, Nghiem-Eibrek says.
However, a drop in estrogen that can lead to vaginal atrophy may also be due to:
- Removal of both ovaries (oophorectomy), since estrogen is primarily produced in the ovaries.
- Breast cancer treatment, which may include anti-estrogen medications.
- Childbirth, which results in a drop in estrogen. In fact, a 2018 study of postpartum women found 43% reported vaginal dryness six months after giving birth.
- Breastfeeding, which also reduces estrogen levels. This is because the hormone prolactin that causes lactation can also reduce estrogen levels.
Other risk factors for vaginal atrophy include:
- Smoking, which reduces blood circulation to the vagina.
- Lack of sexual activity, since staying sexually active increases blood flow to the genitals and maintains elastic vaginal tissues.
- No vaginal births. People who have never given birth vaginally are more likely to develop vaginal atrophy than those who have had vaginal deliveries.
Topic Discussed: What is vaginal atrophy? The condition that affects more than half of postmenopausal people.
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