Vaginal Atrophy: A Painful Condition Every Woman Should Know About

Harvard Health

Women tend to be more particular about their bodies as compared to men. Yet some women are still in the dark about their vaginas, for reasons only known to them. Know that the vagina, just like other parts of the body, goes through changes throughout a woman’s life. Most especially during menopause.

Menopause causes your body’s levels of the hormone estrogen to decrease which definitely will affect the vagina and urinary tract, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Over a period of time, the vagina lining can get dryer, thinner, and less elastic. This condition is known as vaginal atrophy.

About 45% of women are impacted by vaginal atrophy, according to a study published in the Journal of Menopausal Medicine. So it is important for all women to know the facts about vaginal atrophy. It can interfere with your ability to have pleasure during sex, so says Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB-GYN in Dallas, Texas. But it’s not all just about sex.

Vaginal atrophy can bother you even when you’re just taking a walk,” explains Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School. Sounds horrendous, but it is treatable. So, get to know more here.

According to Dr. Minkin, every woman has slightly different symptoms, but these are the general ones:

Decreased lubrication during sex

Bleeding after sex

Itching and burning sensation

Frequent vaginal and urinary tract infections

Peeing more often

Dr. Shepherd explains that the urinary symptoms may be surprising, but know that vaginal atrophy also thins the lining of your bladder, making you more prone to infections.

How does vaginal atrophy affect your life, you may ask? Well, sadly, painful sex is one of the biggest issues, says Dr. Minkin. “ the lack of lubrication can irritate the vaginal tissue, and friction from sex can irritate it more.”  but avoiding sex due to the pain will not help you solve the issue. It can make things worse, says Dr. Minkin, “ If you are not having sex, you do continue to get drier.”  Dr. Shepherd agrees that having sex on a regular basis increases blood flow to the vagina and may cause an increase in certain hormones that helps keep your vagina well-lubricated and elastic. And dryness is a major problem, it can result in itching and a burning sensation, while doing regular things in everyday life. Dr. Minkin stresses that cells in the vagina actually go through changes, thinning which can cause discomfort. Also, peeing more often is another uncomfortable effect. But don’t worry, vaginal atrophy can be treated.

There are many options, over-the-counter, or prescriptions from your doctor. These include:

  1. Vaginal lubricants and moisturizers. You can get them over the counter to relieve dryness and prevent painful sex.
  2. Local estrogen therapy. Through a vaginal cream, a small dose of estrogen is released to restore thickness and elasticity of the vaginal lining. It can also come in the form of a dissolvable tablet inserted directly into the vaginal tissue.
  3. Systemic estrogen therapy. Applying a patch, taking a pill, or a gel or spray, can release estrogen into your bloodstream. But keep in mind,it is important to take progestin when doing estrogen therapy, according to the ACOG. Estrogen only treatments can increase the risk of cancer in the uterus lining – which progestin counters.
  4. Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). A prescription that binds to estrogen receptors all over the body and helps stimulate the production of the hormone.

If you are nearing menopause, like in your 40s to 50s, go see your doctor and discuss vaginal atrophy. There is no shame in it. And no matter what age you are, if you are experiencing painful sex and discomfort, see your doctor. Dr. Minkin says, This condition is easy to take care of.”