Women's Health

What Is Vaginal Atrophy?

As we age, our bodies endure many changes. Skin becomes drier as collagen production decreases, sometimes making the skin appear more aged and thinner. This decrease of lubrication is a natural part of the aging process and the vagina is no exception. Lower estrogen levels result in the body producing less lubricant to the cervix, causing vaginal atrophy.

Vaginal atrophy is the thinning of the vaginal lining. When this tissue does not receive enough moisture or lubrication, it becomes drier and thinner. The hormone estrogen plays a key role in keeping the vagina naturally lubricated. Estrogen levels naturally fluctuate throughout the monthly menstrual cycle as well as over a lifetime. During menopause, the body naturally decreases the production of estrogen, thus increasing the risk of vaginal dryness. 

Vaginal atrophy is most common in those who are post-menopause. In fact, the American Association of Family Physicians reported 40% of post-menopausal women experience vaginal atrophy symptoms. However, low estrogen levels can impact women of any age. Even if you are not pre- or post-menopausal, but experience the symptoms of vaginal atrophy, you should consider seeking medical consultation. 

Symptoms of Vaginal Atrophy

  • Vaginal burning
  • Burning with urination
  • Frequent urinary tract infections (UTI)
  • Light bleeding after intercourse 
  • Discomfort or pain during intercourse

Having healthy estrogen levels is key for a balanced reproductive system. Although some fluctuation is natural, it is important to be aware of additional health factors. Other medical factors that can contribute to low estrogen or vaginal atrophy are:

  • Breastfeeding
  • Pregnancy or post-pregnancy 
  • Ovary removal surgery 
  • Radiation or chemotherapy to the pelvic area
  • Hormonal therapy such as those to treat breast cancer
  • Obesity 
  • Anorexia nervosa, or extreme dieting
  • Diabetes 
  • Over-exercising, strenuous training
  • High blood pressure
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Smoking, not participating in any sexual activity, and not giving vaginal birth can also contribute to vaginal dryness and cause vaginal atrophy.

Vaginal Atrophy Treatment

Establishing healthy estrogen levels and keeping the vaginal lining lubricated are important when treating vaginal atrophy. Seeking treatment can also help reduce your risk of infection. Once you’ve consulted a medical professional, it may be recommended that you use one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Vaginal moisturizer. This will help restore moisture levels to the area.
  • Water-based lubricant. This can reduce discomfort during intercourse.
  • Prescribed topical estrogen therapy. This therapy will supply your body with the hormones it may no longer be producing.
  • Vitamins or supplements. Supplements such as vitamin C and collagen may be recommended to help prevent further symptoms of vaginal aging.

Your health and comfort are important. If you are experiencing the symptoms of vaginal atrophy, consult your OBGYN. We recommend seeking medical care immediately if you experience itching, burning, discomfort, or bleeding.