Vaginal Health 101: Keeping Your Vagina Healthy During Menopause
How to Keep Your Vagina Healthy Through Menopause
Natural reduction of estrogen and testosterone following menopause can cause gradual body and sexual changes and is detrimental to vaginal health.
Perimenopausal, menopausal, and postmenopausal women notice decreased arousal and less sensitivity to touching and hence less interest in sex. Reduced estrogen levels also lead to a drop in blood supply to the vagina. It affects vaginal lubrication, causing vaginal dryness and eventually vaginal atrophy.
What is Vaginal Atrophy?
Medically referred to as atrophic vaginitis, vaginal atrophy is when the vagina lining gets thinner and drier.It results in an itchy, burning sensation and pain or bleeding during sex.
Vaginal atrophy can cause other complications like urinary tract infections. A compound term for these complications is genitourinary syndrome of menopause.
Difference between Vaginal Atrophy and a Yeast Infection
It is common to misdiagnose vaginal atrophy as a yeast infection as they have similar symptoms of dryness, itchiness, inflammation, and pain.
However, a vaginal yeast infection results from a fungal infection, while vaginal atrophy results from low estrogen production. Professionals recommend a consultation with your healthcare provider about symptoms to get to a clear prognosis.
Who is prone to Vaginal Atrophy?
Menopausal women aged 50 and above are at the highest risk of experiencing vaginal atrophy as they no longer ovulate. The American Association of Family Physicians reports that over 40% of postmenopausal women display symptoms of vaginal atrophy.
However, only 25% of them seek medical attention from a healthcare provider. Although rare, some women display similar symptoms during perimenopause due to loss of vaginal tightening.
Other factors accelerating the development of vaginal atrophy include:
- Lack of an active sex life
- Reduced ovarian functioning as a result of chemotherapy or radiationImmune deficiency
- Medication contradictory to estrogen
- Non-fluctuating estrogen levels
- Ovary removal
- Postpartum loss of placental estrogen
Causes of Vaginal Atrophy
Menopause brings about a significant drop in estrogen production. When estrogen levels drop, it results in vaginal tissue change, thinner lining, fluctuation in vaginal PH balance, and urinary incontinence.
The vaginal canal also appears to shorten and narrow. Low estrogen levels reduce the average production of vaginal fluids. Women right out of delivery and breastfeeding report cases of vaginal dryness due to a drop in estrogen production, which is standard in those circumstances.
Vaginal atrophy symptoms are also common in women who've had their ovaries removed and those on chemotherapy or radiation. Similarly, those on medication containing aromatase inhibitors display these symptoms.
Symptoms of Vaginal Atrophy
Symptoms of vaginal atrophy include:
- Vaginal dryness
- Thinning vaginal walls
- Narrowing and shortening of the vaginal walls
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Itchy or burning vagina and vulva
- Painful sexual intercourse (dyspareunia)
- Yellow vaginal discharge
- Spotting or bleeding
While vaginal atrophy symptoms may appear in some women before and during menopause, in other women, they may not appear until years later.
Diagnosing Vaginal Atrophy
Based on your symptoms, your healthcare provider can decide to conduct a pelvic exam to examine the appearance of the vagina and diagnose your vaginal health. A pelvic exam with positive results of vaginal atrophy shows:
- A short, narrow vaginaInflamed vaginal walls Inelastic inner vaginal skin
- Whitish discoloration of the vagina
- A bulge in the back of the vagina
- Vulvar skin conditions, lesions, and redness
- Scarcity of pubic hair
- A saggy bladder
- Urethral lesion
A trained clinical officer may also order various tests to differentiate vaginal atrophy from conditions with similar symptoms.
These tests include:
- Serum hormone testing
- Pap test
- Vagina PH
- Urine sample
Some questions a healthcare provider might ask to diagnose vaginal atrophy include:
- Are you menopausal?
- Are you on any medication?
- Have you recently given birth?
- Do you experience painful vaginal intercourse?
- Are you on any OTC lubricants or moisturizers?
- How long have you noticed these symptoms?
As vaginal atrophy is commonly under diagnosed, be sure to mention it to your healthcare provider if you match its symptoms.
Management and Treatment of Vaginal Atrophy
Based on the severity of your symptoms, your healthcare provider might recommend estrogen therapy if it is the most effective treatment for vaginal atrophy.
A lubricant or moisturizer is perfect for coating the vagina to manage the symptoms of vaginal atrophy.
The 10 application treatment works to counter the symptoms of vaginal atrophy, strengthen vaginal walls and restore natural vaginal PH balance and microbiome. It improves comfort during sex and promotes enhanced orgasm by vaginal strengthening. In addition, it improves your overall vaginal health.