What is Vaginal Atrophy?
Inflammation, thinning, and dryness of the vaginal wall are termed vaginal atrophy.(1)
Many women are found suffering from it during or after menopause. It is sometimes also called vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA).
The condition occurs due to a drop in the estrogen level and it does during the beginning of menopause. This results in physical changes. The vaginal opening narrows and the vaginal tissue pliability and flexibility are diminished. This causes vaginal dryness, burning, itching, and pain during sex and bladder problems.
Vaginal atrophy also leads to urinary problems that further leads to the following symptoms:
- Burning pain during urination
- Increase in frequency of the desire to urinate
- Leaking urine
The individual also experiences painful intercourse.
Is It Possible to Reverse Vaginal Atrophy?
100% reversal of symptoms of Vaginal atrophy is not possible but with the treatments, some real changes can be observed.
There are treatments such as estrogen therapy, physical therapy and dilators that are used for vaginal atrophy.
Not in all cases, a complete reversal of all vaginal atrophy symptoms is observed.
Vaginal atrophy is not experienced by all the females in the menopausal age. The aging process cannot be reversed. An individual can find a major relief in the symptoms after the treatment. You can start feeling like your old self.
Treatment Options for Symptom Relief of Vaginal Atrophy
There are various treatment options available for vaginal atrophy.
The first treatment option is vaginal moisturizers or water-based and glycerin-free lubricants. Vaginal moisturizers provide relief from dryness.
Petroleum-based lubricants should be avoided as these can weaken the latex and break the condom. Silicone-based lubricants can be used instead as they give a more natural feel and do not affect the latex. Also, they need to be reapplied less.
If these do not provide any relief, a doctor should be consulted. The doctor may start with the following treatment:
Vaginal Estrogen Cream
Vaginal estrogen cream can be directly applied to the vagina. It is one of the most effective ways to increase estrogen levels.
When starting to use the cream, it needs to be applied frequently i.e. every night. After a few weeks, it needs to be applied every second or third night.
Vaginal Estrogen Tablet
An applicator is used for the insertion of an estrogen tablet into the vagina. The tablet dissolves and the vagina absorbs the estrogen.
Just like cream, the estrogen is inserted frequently in the beginning and less frequently later on.
Vaginal Estrogen Ring
The vaginal estrogen ring is a flexible rubber band-like ring. It is inserted in the upper portion of the vagina. It continually releases estrogen while there.
It needs to be replaced every 3 months.
If there are other symptoms of menopause accompanying the vaginal atrophy, the doctor would take a call for a different type of estrogen therapy that includes the following options:
- High-dose rings
In addition to estrogen, supplemental progestin is also prescribed, in cases where hysterectomy is not done.
Side Effects of Estrogen Replacement Therapy
Estrogen therapy is the best way to reverse vaginal atrophy. However, not every woman is able to use it.
There are long-term side effects that discourage the doctors from prescribing it, which include:
Low doses appear to be safe.(2)
For the females who are at an increased risk of these problems, non-hormonal options are the best.
How to Prevent Vaginal Atrophy?
Vaginal atrophy cannot be entirely prevented but the risk can be reduced.
Regular sexual activity can boost overall vaginal health. The increase in blood flow can keep the vaginal tissue healthy.
For smokers, quitting smoking can be considered. Smoking reduces blood circulation and prevents adequate blood flow to the vagina. It also interferes with the body’s natural estrogen.
If experiencing unusual symptoms, it is good to consult a doctor and discuss the symptoms for early care and treatment.