By DR. DAWN HOCHSTETTLER
For women in menopausal transition, vaginal dryness, pain with intercourse and an increased risk of vaginal infections are common symptoms of a condition known as vaginal atrophy.
Vaginal atrophy is caused by a decrease in estrogen levels and the thinning of vaginal walls, which typically occur during menopause in women between the ages of 45 and 55.
It is estimated that up to half of postmenopausal women suffer from vaginal atrophy, yet very few seek treatment, typically because they are embarrassed or they are unaware that vaginal atrophy is a chronic and serious condition.
The pain and discomfort caused by this condition can have negative consequences on a woman’s quality of life and sexual health.
When estrogen levels decrease, the vagina’s ability to secrete lubricants also decreases, resulting in vaginal dryness.
A woman suffering from vaginal dryness may experience irritation, especially when wearing tight clothing such as jeans; itching and pain during sexual intercourse, including soreness; and burning or bleeding after sex.
These symptoms commonly decrease sexual desire in women, which can lead to sexual avoidance. Avoidance may negatively impact a woman’s relationships and also worsen her vaginal atrophy symptoms.
A woman may also experience a number of urinary symptoms, such as pain during urination, incontinence and an increase in urinary tract infections.
In addition, women may experience a number of symptoms typically associated with menopause, including mood changes, memory problems, hot flashes and fatigue.
Vaginal atrophy only needs to be treated if the condition is causing a woman serious pain and discomfort.
Hormone replacement therapy is one effective way to treat vaginal atrophy.
Estrogen can be taken through tablets, gel, patches or implants in order to supply appropriate hormones to the entire body. Treatment can also be applied directly to the vaginal area through local treatments such as vaginal tablets, creams and estrogen rings.
Local vaginal estrogen treatments have minimal effect on other tissues.
Non-hormonal treatments may include the use of water-soluble vaginal lubricants during sexual intercourse.
Regular exercise and regular sexual activity are also important to keep genital circulation high and encourage vaginal elasticity.
If you are a woman experiencing symptoms related to vaginal atrophy, do not be embarrassed to talk to your physician or gynecologist.
Vaginal dryness does not need to be an inevitable result of aging. With a physical examination, including a pelvic examination, diagnosis and intervention can help improve symptoms and restore vaginal health.
Hochstettler is with Blanchard Valley Women & Children’s Center. Questions for Blanchard Valley Health System experts may be sent to Weekend Doctor, The Courier, P.O. Box 609, Findlay, OH 45839.
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