Menopause can bring many so many issues – hot flashes, weight gain, mood swings – so many women are caught by surprise when they start feeling irritation, soreness or itching in and around their “private parts.”
However, this dryness may be a sign of vaginal atrophy, which affects approximately three-quarters of women after they go through the menopausal transition. Furthermore, as many as 40 percent of women will experience specific symptoms of vaginal atrophy. However, only 20-25 percent of women who have these symptoms will talk to a health care professional about their issues so they can be treated.
What is Vaginal Atrophy?
The Mayo Clinic defines vaginal atrophy as “thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls due to your body having less estrogen.” This condition can develop when women are breast-feeding or at other times when estrogen levels decline. Furthermore, medical conditions such as breast cancer, infertility, fibroids and endometriosis can result in atrophic vaginitis due to the medications and hormones that are used to treat these conditions.
Not surprisingly though, this condition is most common during and after menopause, which is when women’s estrogen levels start dropping. Additionally, vaginal dryness can become worse through severe stress, depression, and rigorous exercise. Additionally, other factors – including smoking, tampons, condoms, perfume, soaps, laundry detergents, lotions and douches -- can make this dryness worse for some women.
Women have several options for treatment for vaginal atrophy. These options include:
- Estrogen replacement – This type of hormone replacement therapy is effective in restoring this part of your anatomy and decreasing symptoms. However, because of previous research that suggests there could be side effects, be sure to work with your doctor to try to take the lowest dosage for the shortest possible time.
- Moisturizers and lubricants – These substances can be used along with estrogen replacement or separately. Women who want to avoid using estrogen should avoid moisturizers that contain ginseng because of its estrogen properties. Dr. Holly Thacker of the Cleveland Clinic recommends water-soluble ointments since they won’t weaken latex condoms the way that other products will. IN addition, she recommends avoiding using mineral oil or petroleum jelly in the vagina because these products are examples of ones that will weaken latex condoms. Instead, she recommends vitamin E or olive oil.
- Sex – Women who regularly engage in sex describe having fewer symptoms of atrophic vaginitis.
- Take your time – Participating in foreplay before intercourse can help increase your vaginal lubrication, thus reducing dryness and burning.