Vaginal atrophy, also known as atrophic vaginitis, refers to a thinning of the vaginal walls which can cause dryness, irritation, and increased infection risk. The symptoms are often mild, but can lead to some unpleasant complications.
A drop in hormones causes many women to experience vaginal atrophy after menopause. This condition affects between 10-40% of post-menopausal women but it can also affect women of all ages.
New Beginnings OB-GYN supports women in the Las Vegas, Nevada area coping with vaginal dryness or other post-menopausal issues. Our team, led by Dr. Staci McHale, was proud to be named the 2021 Gold Best Women’s Clinic in Las Vegas in recognition of our patient-focused care.
If you’re concerned you might have vaginal atrophy, read on to understand its causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Vaginal atrophy causes
In women, the production of hormones like estrogen and progesterone are both vital to puberty, menstruation, and sex drive. The lack of hormones can lead to a variety of problems, including vaginal atrophy.
The thinning and inflammation associated with vaginal atrophy is due to a severe reduction of estrogen. Because this happens naturally when women reach menopause, vaginal atrophy is more common at this point in your life.
However, there are other factors that can cause you to experience vaginal atrophy, including:
- Medications that affect hormone levels
- Pelvic radiation therapy or chemotherapy
- Surgical removal of both ovaries
Many doctors to refer to vaginal atrophy and urinary problems caused by menopause as genitourinary syndrome of menopause or GSM. Risk factors that can contribute to this condition include smoking, non-vaginal births, and lack of sexual activity.
The first sign of vaginal atrophy is often a decrease in lubrication. This can lead you to experience symptoms such as:
- Genital itching
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal discharge
- Painful or burning urination
- Frequent urination
- Recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Shortening and tightening of your vaginal canal
In rarer cases, it can also cause spotting or bleeding, stress incontinence, pelvic pressure, and blood in your urine (hematuria).
Generally, vaginal atrophy is uncomfortable but not a serious cause for alarm. However, there are two major complications of vaginal atrophy:
Vaginal atrophy caused by a drop in hormones can also affect the acidic environment in your vagina. This acidic environment keeps your vagina healthy, so a change in your pH balance can lead to an increase in bacterial and yeast infections. This can also cause an increased risk of UTIs.
Vaginal atrophy can eventually also lead to urinary system atrophy which can cause burning and painful urination, as well as urgent urination. Problems with your urinary tract can also affect your urethra and bladder.
Luckily, there are many treatments available to treat vaginal atrophy, including estrogen therapy, lubricants, moisturizers, and dilators. Additional treatments can be used to treat any infectious and urinary complications you encounter.
Vaginal atrophy can be frustrating and painful, as well as a problem for your personal life. Help is available, so if you’re dealing with vaginal atrophy, contact Dr. McHale and New Beginnings OB-GYN today.