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Sometimes an uncomfortable topic for women to discuss with their healthcare provider, vaginal atrophy due to menopause can be associated with vaginal symptoms
Vaginal atrophy is a condition characterized by thinning, drying, or inflammation of the vagina. It occurs most often after menopause, when the body decreases the amount of estrogen it produces. Women with vaginal atrophy may experience a number of uncomfortable symptoms, such as pain during sex, vaginal itching, or burning. The condition is known by a few different names, including vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) or atrophic vaginitis.
What is vaginal atrophy?
After menopause, a woman’s ovaries do not produce as much estrogen, the hormone that helps develop and maintain female organs. Without estrogen, the walls of the vagina can become more fragile or inflamed. This condition is called vaginal atrophy and can sometimes can cause the vagina to feel dry, itchy, or irritated. Painful sex – medically referred to as dyspareunia – is another associated symptom.
Who gets vaginal atrophy and how?
Vaginal atrophy most commonly occurs in women after menopause. However, it can occur for other reasons that cause women to have low estrogen levels. For example, patients can experience vaginal atrophy as a result of chemotherapy. Although vaginal atrophy is common after menopause, not everyone has symptoms.
What are the symptoms of vaginal atrophy?
There are a number of possible symptoms with vaginal atrophy. Some of the vaginal symptoms include:
- Painful sex (dyspareunia)
- Vaginal itching
- Vaginal burning
- Vaginal dryness
Women may also experience urinary problems such burning with urination or urinary urgency with vaginal atrophy.
How is vaginal atrophy diagnosed?
One of the reasons that vaginal atrophy may go undiagnosed is because women may be embarrassed to discuss the symptoms with their doctor. However, vaginal atrophy can be diagnosed through the clinical history that the patient provides to the doctor as well as a through a routine pelvic exam. During the exam, the doctor can check the vagina for redness, dryness, inflammation, or irritation.
There are a few other tests the doctor can consider. The doctor may check hormone levels to determine the onset of menopause. Urine tests might also be ordered to understand why a patient might be experiencing urinary symptoms. Also, the doctor may decide to check the acid balance in the vagina. With vaginal atrophy, pH levels become higher than before menopause.
How is vaginal atrophy treated?
There are several different options for vaginal atrophy that are based on the patient, the reasons for vaginal atrophy, and the type and severity of a woman’s symptoms. Women should feel comfortable speaking with their healthcare provider about their symptoms and their options.