Normally, your vagina produces fluids that help keep it flexible, elastic, and firm. The production of these fluids depends on a healthy supply of the hormone estrogen. As you near menopause, your estrogen levels drop significantly, making it difficult for your vagina to produce the natural lubrication it needs to stay healthy. Over time, the vagina becomes thin, brittle, irritated, dry, and inflamed - a condition called vaginal atrophy or atrophic vaginitis.
Women who have vaginal atrophy tend to experience uncomfortable symptoms that can interfere with daily activities and take a toll on their overall quality of life. Unfortunately, many women accept these symptoms as part of “getting older,” when actually, there are several relatively simple treatment options that can help them feel better.
Vaginal atrophy can also occur after radiation therapy or chemotherapy for cancer or after oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries). Smoking can increase your risk for vaginal atrophy, and you’re also at greater risk if you’ve never given birth vaginally and if you don’t engage in sexual activity (with or without a partner).
Vaginal atrophy causes symptoms like:
Symptoms may be relatively mild at first, becoming more severe as time passes without treatment.
Diagnosis begins with a review of your medical history and your symptoms, followed by a pelvic exam to examine your vagina. Dr. Tureanu often performs an acid balance test, which uses a sample of your vaginal fluid to evaluate its acidity level. If you have urinary symptoms, you’ll also take a urine test.
Several treatment options are available for vaginal atrophy, including:
If you opt for an estrogen product, you’ll have regular blood tests to monitor your estrogen levels so your treatments stay optimized for your needs.