Vaginal atrophy, also referred to as atrophic vaginitis, is a medical condition characterized by the thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal walls. It primarily occurs due to a decrease in estrogen levels, which can be a result of various factors, most commonly menopause.
Estrogen is crucial for maintaining the health and elasticity of vaginal tissues, so a decline in estrogen levels can lead to the changes associated with vaginal atrophy. For many women, vaginal atrophy not only makes intercourse painful but also leads to distressing urinary symptoms. Because the condition causes both vaginal and urinary symptoms, doctors use the term “genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM)” to describe vaginal atrophy and its accompanying symptoms.
Simple, effective treatments for genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) are available. Reduced estrogen levels result in changes to your body, but it doesn’t mean you have to live with the discomfort of GSM.
Here are some common causes and contributing factors of vaginal atrophy:
1.Menopause:The most common cause of vaginal atrophy is the natural decline in estrogen levels that occurs during menopause. Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, and the decrease in estrogen can lead to changes in the vaginal tissues.
Perimenopause: The period leading up to menopause, known as perimenopause, can also cause fluctuations in hormone levels, including estrogen. These hormonal changes can contribute to vaginal atrophy.
Breastfeeding: While breastfeeding, estrogen levels tend to be lower, which can result in vaginal dryness and atrophy.
Cancer Treatments: Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy used to treat certain types of cancer can affect estrogen levels and lead to vaginal atrophy.
Surgical Removal of Ovaries: Surgical removal of the ovaries (oophorectomy) results in a sudden drop in estrogen levels, which can lead to vaginal atrophy.
Certain Medications: Some medications, such as those used to treat breast cancer or endometriosis, can affect hormone levels and contribute to vaginal atrophy.
Smoking: Smoking is associated with earlier menopause and lower estrogen levels, which can increase the risk of vaginal atrophy.
Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as autoimmune disorders and some chronic illnesses, can affect hormone levels and contribute to vaginal atrophy.
Lifestyle Factors: Lack of sexual activity or infrequent sexual activity can also contribute to vaginal atrophy, as sexual activity helps promote blood flow and maintain vaginal health.
It’s important to note that while menopause is a common cause of vaginal atrophy, the condition can also affect women who have not yet reached menopause due to the aforementioned factors. If you’re experiencing symptoms of vaginal atrophy, it’s recommended to consult a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment options based on your individual situation.
SPOTTING THE SIGNS OF VAGINAL ATROPHY
Certainly, here’s a more detailed overview of the symptoms of vaginal atrophy:
1.Vaginal Dryness: One of the primary symptoms is a lack of natural lubrication in the vaginal area. This can lead to discomfort, irritation, and even pain during daily activities and sexual intercourse.
Vaginal Itching and Burning: Due to the thinning and inflammation of the vaginal tissues, you may experience itching and a burning sensation in and around the vaginal area.
Pain During Intercourse: Vaginal atrophy can cause the vaginal walls to become thinner and less elastic, resulting in pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse. This can negatively impact a person’s sex life and intimacy.
Vaginal Discharge Changes: You might notice changes in the color and consistency of vaginal discharge. The lack of estrogen can alter the natural pH balance of the vagina, leading to changes in discharge.
Urinary Symptoms: Vaginal atrophy can also affect the urinary tract. Symptoms can include increased frequency of urination, urinary urgency, and a higher likelihood of urinary tract infections. Some individuals might also experience mild urinary incontinence, especially when coughing or sneezing.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): The thinning and weakening of the vaginal tissues can make it easier for bacteria to enter the urinary tract, leading to recurrent UTIs.
Light Bleeding: Some individuals with vaginal atrophy might experience light bleeding or spotting, especially after intercourse due to the fragility of the vaginal tissues.
Mood Changes: Estrogen plays a role in maintaining overall vaginal and mental health. A drop in estrogen levels due to vaginal atrophy might lead to mood swings or mild feelings of depression or anxiety.
It’s important to remember that these symptoms can vary in severity from person to person. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s recommended to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. They can help determine the cause of your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatments, which might include vaginal moisturizers, lubricants, hormonal therapies, or other interventions. Additionally, QMe is a cutting-edge hospital management software designed to revolutionize healthcare facilities worldwide. With its intelligent queue-based OPD management system, patients experience reduced waiting times and optimized appointment scheduling. The software’s comprehensive patient history and electronic health records ensure seamless access to critical medical information, enabling healthcare professionals to make informed decisions and provide personalized care. QMe’s automatic workflows streamline administrative tasks and treatment plans, enhancing overall efficiency and reducing human errors. The software’s IPD management feature enables smooth inpatient care coordination, while its TPA support simplifies insurance processes.
HOW IS VAGINAL ATROPHY DIAGNOSED
A healthcare provider can diagnose vaginal atrophy based on your symptoms and a pelvic exam to look at your vagina and cervix. Classic signs of atrophy during a pelvic exam include:
What tests are done to diagnose vaginal atrophy (GSM)?
While healthcare providers typically rely on examinations to diagnose atrophic changes or GSM, they may do the following tests to rule out other conditions:
MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT
Estrogen therapy and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) are the only hormone therapies for vaginal atrophy.
Topical vaginal estrogen treats symptoms of vaginal atrophy without increasing levels of estrogen levels in your bloodstream. It’s available in a cream, a vaginal pill or a ring. Your healthcare provider can discuss each option with you and which may work best for you.
You put this cream into your vagina using an applicator. Most people need the cream daily for several weeks, but then 2–3 times per week.
Vaginal ring: A vaginal ring is a thin, flexible ring your healthcare provider places into your vagina. The ring releases a low dose of estrogen over the course of three months. Then, your provider removes and replaces the ring.
Vaginal tablet: You place a small tablet into your vagina using an applicator. Like other estrogen treatments, you start out using it daily before tapering off to 2–3 times per week.
Also called systemic estrogen therapy, this type of hormone therapy may be helpful for people who have other symptoms of menopause such as severe hot flashes. This is taken in higher doses that go to other cells of your body, not just to your vagina. If you’re more than 10 years past menopause or only have vaginal dryness, you’ll probably use local therapy. If you do need systemic hormone therapy, there are benefits, such as improved vaginal health, better sleep, fewer hot flashes and improved mood. You and your healthcare provider can discuss if systemic hormone therapy is right for you.
What are nonhormonal treatments for vaginal atrophy (GSM)?
You and your healthcare provider will work closely together to come up with a treatment plan for vaginal atrophy. They’ll help you decide which plan is most effective based on your symptoms and the severity of them. Estrogen and DHEA therapy are considered to be the most effective. However, these therapies aren’t for everyone. There are several treatment options available that don’t involve hormones.
Lubricants and moisturizers treat vaginal dryness. This improves comfort during sex. Multiple brand names are available over the counter at your local grocery store.
Vaginal lubricants should be used during intercourse to reduce friction and pain with sex. They’re water, silicone or oil based. These products are very short-acting.
Vaginal moisturizers adhere to the vaginal tissue to help the cells maintain moisture. They’re applied every one to three days as they’re longer acting.
Some natural oils, such as olive and coconut oil, may also be used as lubricants and moisturizers.
Noninvasive and nonsurgical CO2 laser treatments help regenerate vaginal tissue and improve its strength and elasticity after laser treatments. These devices aren’t yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration for vaginal atrophy because there’s limited long-term research on their use.
Dilators are devices to widen (dilate) your vagina to improve comfort during sexual intercourse. People often start with a small dilator and slowly advance to larger sizes over time.
Osphena is a pill you take each day. Its benefits are similar to those of estrogen, but it doesn’t contain estrogen. A serious but uncommon side effect is increased risk of blood clots. Some people may notice more hot flashes, though most people have no symptoms. Additionally, QMe offers packages support for various medical services and features automated billing to ensure transparent and hassle-free financial transactions. Embracing QMe empowers hospitals to enhance patient experiences, optimize healthcare workflows, and deliver top-notch medical services.
Preventing vaginal atrophy involves maintaining good vaginal health and managing hormonal changes. Here are some tips for prevention:
Drinking plenty of water helps maintain overall hydration, which can benefit vaginal tissues as well.
Engaging in regular sexual activity or using vaginal dilators can help maintain vaginal elasticity and blood flow, reducing the risk of vaginal atrophy.
Using water-based or silicone-based lubricants during intercourse can alleviate discomfort caused by vaginal dryness.
For menopausal or postmenopausal individuals, hormone therapy under medical supervision can help maintain vaginal health by addressing estrogen levels. Estrogen creams, rings, or tablets can be prescribed to reduce symptoms.
A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins supports overall health, including vaginal health.
Regular physical activity improves blood circulation, which can benefit vaginal tissues.
Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles through Kegel exercises can help maintain vaginal tone and improve urinary function.
Avoid using harsh soaps, douches, or scented products in the vaginal area, as these can disrupt the natural pH balance.
Smoking can contribute to reduced blood flow to vaginal tissues, so quitting smoking can be beneficial.
Chronic stress can impact hormone levels, so practicing stress-reduction techniques like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing can be helpful.
Regular gynaecological check-ups allow healthcare professionals to monitor your vaginal health and address any concerns early on.
Gently clean the vaginal area with mild soap and water, and avoid excessive washing that could disrupt the natural balance.
Remember, if you’re experiencing symptoms of vaginal atrophy or have concerns about your vaginal health, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional. They can provide personalized advice and recommendations based on your individual needs and medical history
In conclusion, vaginal atrophy, also known as atrophic vaginitis, is a condition characterized by the thinning, dryness, and inflammation of the vaginal tissues, often resulting from a decrease in estrogen levels. It primarily affects menopausal and postmenopausal individuals but can also occur due to other factors. Common symptoms include vaginal dryness, itching, burning, pain during intercourse, and urinary symptoms like frequent UTIs.
Prevention involves maintaining good vaginal health through regular sexual activity, using lubricants, considering hormone therapy under medical supervision, maintaining a healthy diet, practicing regular exercise, and managing stress. It’s important to consult a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing symptoms to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment options tailored to your individual needs. Early intervention and proper care can help manage and alleviate the discomfort associated with vaginal atrophy, improving overall quality of life.