When the walls of your vagina start becoming thin, dry and inflamed, you may be experiencing vaginal atrophy. This phenomenon mostly happens during the perimenopause and menopause stages in a woman’s life. It is around this time that the body produces less estrogen, leading to vaginal atrophy, also known as genitourinary syndrome of menopause. Read on to know vaginal atrophy symptoms and treatment.
Vaginal atrophy is often seen as a sign of ageing. That’s because the most common cause is decrease in hormones, particularly estrogen, mostly in perimenopause and post-menopause stages. It can also happen due to prolonged abstinence or lack of sex, says obstetrician and a gynaecologist Dr Vaishali Joshi. Chemotherapy or Radiotherapy given for cancer treatment can also lead to vaginal atrophy.
Vaginal dryness is one of the first symptoms you will notice, but there are more signs.
Since the vaginal tissues become thinner, your chances of getting urinary tract infection goes up. They can happen when the bacteria spreads from your private area to other parts including your bladder and kidneys.
Vaginal atrophy leads to decrease in the elasticity of the vaginal lining, and so the skin over labia becomes thin and dry, and this leads to itching, says Dr Joshi.
Decrease in the estrogen hormone leads to less secretions. That means less lubrication during sex, causing vaginal dryness and painful sex.
If sex is more about pain and discomfort for you, reaching orgasm will be difficult. During midlife, vaginal atrophy is one of the main causes of orgasmic dysfunction.
Blood vessels within the vagina have less protection due to the thinning of vaginal tissues. So, you may experience vaginal bleeding, especially during sex due to the friction. It may not be heavy bleeding, but still you will be able to notice it.
It usually happens while coughing, sneezing or exercising or when one has a strong urge to pee. Some women even end up peeing before reaching the toilet. There may be a burning sensation while urinating apart from an urgency when it comes to peeing.
Applying local estrogen cream down there over short periods can relieve the symptoms, says Dr Joshi. Other options to treat or manage vaginal atrophy symptoms include:
• Use of water-based vaginal lubricants during sex.
• Go for probiotics to help to maintain healthy vagina.
• Focus on foreplay before having penetrative sex.
• Do Kegel exercises to help to increase blood flow to your vaginal tissues.
• Hormone therapy to help to restore moisture and flexibility to your vagina. You may be given pills, creams or sprays by your doctor.
• Eat foods that have plant estrogens, so flaxseed, soybeans and soy products are some good options.
• Oral estrogen treatment, which means taking the hormone orally.
• Regular sex may help to give a boost to your overall vaginal health, as there will be an increase in blood flow. This will help to keep your vaginal tissues healthy.
You must also avoid using vaginal douches or other feminine hygiene products with strong fragrances or other harmful chemicals. These products may make your vagina dry or cause irritation, making your symptoms even worse.
If you notice some of the signs of vaginal atrophy along with severe pain down there and abnormal vaginal discharge, contact your doctor.