Vaginal Atrophy: The Basics, Part One.

Vaginal atrophy, or atropic vaginitis, is a condition that can affect vagina owners at any stage of their life, for a wide variety of reasons. The most common reasons being menopause, cancer, long-term illness, medications, even lifestyle choices. This condition causes the thinning of the vaginal tissues, most often due to the decline of estrogen or a hormone imbalance. Burning, itching, spotting, pain with touch or penetration, frequent urination and urinary tract infections are also very common with vaginal atrophy. Cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy and radiation to the pelvic area and abdomen, can also trigger and worsen vaginal atrophy.

Vaginal Atrophy- the Basics.

Vaginal atrophy is a condition where the lining and tissues of the vagina get excessively dry and thin. This can cause burning, itching, pain during foreplay and intercourse, and other symptoms. It can also trigger urinary tract problems and the need for frequent urination. “Atrophy” means “a wasting away or diminution,” thusly meaning the vagina tissues are wasting away. A newer term has come to replace “vaginal atrophy” and that is, ‘genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM). This broadened term helps to better describe not just the vaginal issues, but also those in the urinary tract.

Hormones that are secreted by the endocrine system help to control the hormones in the body through many changes in life. This includes entering puberty, perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause. When these hormones change, wane, or disappear, vaginal atrophy can be a fast onset issue needing to be dealt with. It occurs most often in various stages of menopause but can also occur with cancer and long-term illness treatments, certain prescription medications, and other life circumstances.

The most commonly reported symptom with vaginal atrophy is painful, excruciating vaginal dryness.

Increased Risk of Vaginal Atrophy

Those vagina owners who are over the age of 50, in menopause, or facing chemotherapy or radiation treatment are the most likely to experience this. Some other factors that increase the risk of developing this condition are:

  • Decreased ovarian function due to chemo, radiation, or other reasons.
  • Lack of sexual intercourse or penetrative vaginal activities.
  • Immune disorders.
  • Medications that contain properties of other medications like Nolvadex, Provera, or Synarel.
  • Nonfluctuating estrogen levels.
  • Total Hysterectomy or Oophorectomy, which is the removal of the ovaries.
  • Postpartum loss of placental estrogen.
  • Smoking.
  • Breastfeeding.

Vaginal atrophy is extremely common with over fifty percent of women entering their menopausal years suffering from this condition in various ways (HealthLine).

Signs & Symptoms of Vaginal Atrophy

While the first sign of vaginal atrophy is typically decreased natural vaginal lubrication, any one (or more) of these symptoms could present:

  • Dyspareunia (pain during intercourse)
  • Dryness of the vagina
  • Itching or burning of the vagina
  • Vaginal discharge- usually off color
  • Vulvar itching
  • Spotting or bleeding
  • Pressure in the vaginal area
  • Frequent urgency to use the bathroom
  • Pain when using the bathroom
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Frequent urination
  • Incontinence
  • Dysuria (painful urination)
  • Hematuria (blood in the urine)
  • Burning during urination

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, do make an appointment with your medical care provider to discuss the various options for treatment. The sooner you find a routine treatment, the sooner you can reclaim comfort and the missing pieces of your intimate life.

Options for Vaginal Atrophy Relief

There are numerous options for treating vaginal atrophy. Some of those options involves prescription hormones creams and other medications, while some other involve surgical intervention or laser therapy. Many people are unaware that there are always many holistic options and therapies that can be done in the privacy of your own home!

Here are some tips and information from our Reclaiming Intimacy experts:

  • Use a daily vaginal moisturizer. Using a natural, daily moisturizer can help to soften severely dry vaginal tissue, thusly allowing more comfortable movement and pliability. Reclaiming Intimacy’s Lustrous is a natural, aloe based intimate moisturizer designed to be used every day & helps to replenish lost moisture.
  • Practice routine Kegels. Kegel exercise helps to maintain and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which are a vital part of aging and body health. The pelvic floor helps to hold in our abdominal organs, as well as helps us to control our bladder and bowels. Practicing Kegel exercise also helps to increase sexual pleasure. Reclaiming Intimacy’s Strengthen set is a great way to get started with doing your routine Kegel exercises! Kegels are a great way to rebuild vaginal strength.
  • Utilize Dilator therapy. Dilators are devices that are designed to be inserted into the vagina to help with the widening of the vaginal walls and to help make the vagina pliable after vaginal atrophy has hardened and dried out the area. Reclaiming Intimacy’s Rejuvenate is a three-piece set of multi-sized dilators for at-home dilator therapy. This therapy is done multiple times per week until the vagina owner has reached a comfortable level of tolerance for insertion- whether it be for a gynecologic exam, tampons, dilators, or any type of penetration.
  • “Use it or lose it.” In this case, the old saying is true- if you don’t use it, you will probably lose it. Not literally, but function will decline with the shriveling and drying out of the vaginal tissues. This is why it is important to interact with your vagina and vulva- personally and intimately. Masturbation or using sexual devices are two ways that one can keep their vagina in top health, even if intercourse is not happening.
  • Use a lubrication. Throughout the years, life changes, and hormone changes the natural lubrication of the vagina tends to wane. When a vagina is dry, this can create a recipe for disaster if penetration or insertion is occurring. Dry tissues lead to tiny tears and sores inside of the vaginal canal, which can lead to infections and extreme discomfort. This is why using a lubrication is vital. Whether it be a water-based lubrication like Reclaiming Intimacy’s Flourish, or a thicker friction barrier lubrication like their Satin– these will help to ease pain and discomfort, while making intimacy and sexual activities even more fun.

Do not hesitate to reach out for help if you are struggling with the pain and issues caused by vaginal atrophy.

Resources Used:

Reclaiming Intimacy

Vaginal Atrophy Series: Part One, Two, Three

Vaginal Atrophy: The Basics, Part One.

Vaginal Atrophy: Symptoms, Management, Treatment, & Prevention, Part Two.

Vaginal Atrophy: Living with Vaginal Atrophy, Part Three.

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