Vaginal dystrophy is a condition that occurs due to the drying, thinning, and inflammation of the walls or lining inside the vagina. It’s quite common for a menopausal woman to experience vaginal atrophy, especially the loss of lubrication and elasticity in their intimate areas as a result of estrogen deficiency.
For many patients, vaginal dystrophy can lead to pain during sexual intercourse. It can also cause urinary symptoms such as frequent urination, urinary tract infection, and incontinence. Given that vaginal atrophy usually occurs among women in their menopause stage, some medical experts also refer to this condition as genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM).
Estrogen is the primary female hormone that the body produces to support your reproductive and sexual health. It’s mainly responsible for maintaining vaginal lubrication and thickness. But as you get older, the body decreases its estrogen production and your vaginal tissues become drier and less elastic.
Low estrogen levels can also lead to the shortening of the vaginal canal. It can also affect the amount of vaginal fluid and change the acid balance of the vagina. Several factors can cause the vaginal estrogen levels to drop such as:
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Vaginal atrophy is more commonly diagnosed in a menopausal or postmenopausal woman. Some women who have never given vaginal birth may also be at increased risk for having atrophic vaginitis.
Additionally, individuals who lack sexual activity or stimulation may also be prone to vaginal atrophy because they don’t get enough blood flow to keep their vaginal tissues healthy and elastic.
Women who are habitual smokers may also experience vaginal dystrophy. Smoking can interrupt blood circulation and the delivery of oxygen to the vagina and its surrounding tissues. This can lead to early thinning of the vaginal walls. It can also affect the way your body responds to hormonal medications and estrogen therapy.
The signs and symptoms of vaginal atrophy are seen in women who are aged 50 and above. Here’s what genitourinary syndrome of menopause commonly looks like in patients:
Vaginal atrophy can also increase your risk for urinary problems and overactive bladder which can cause symptoms like:
It’s important to see a vaginal atrophy specialist immediately if you notice abnormal spotting or bleeding, vaginal discharge, soreness, or pelvic pain. A doctor will be able to diagnose vaginal atrophy based on your symptoms and they can perform medical tests to confirm your condition. Here are some medical exams that can help diagnose GSM:
This is a physical examination of your external and internal pelvic organs including the vagina and cervix. During this exam, the doctor will visually inspect your vagina to check if there is any irritation, swelling, or redness. They will also look for other signs of atrophy such as loss of vaginal elasticity, discoloration, narrowing of the vagina, or vulvar lesions.
A urinalysis may also be performed to check your health if you have urinary symptoms along with vaginal dystrophy. Most urine tests can help detect the presence of other medical conditions such as UTI, kidney diseases, or diabetes. It can be done as part of your general health screening.
An acid balance exam is done to assess the vaginal pH levels and rule out other conditions such as bacterial vaginosis or vaginal infection. During this test, a small sample of your vaginal fluids will be taken to analyze its acid balance.
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There are several treatments that can help ease the symptoms of vaginal dystrophy and restore normal estrogen level. Here are some of the best ways to remedy vaginal atrophy and improve your sexual health:
At Dermatology and Skin Health, we offer CO2 RE Intima laser treatment to combat the symptoms and relieve discomfort from vaginal dystrophy. CO2 RE Intima is an FDA-approved device that uses laser energy to rejuvenate the vaginal tissue and improve intimate wellness. It can stimulate the production of new collagen within the vaginal walls to restore elasticity, flexibility, and lubrication.
Hormone replacement therapy is a form of treatment that involves taking medications to treat menopause symptoms and help thicken the vaginal lining and restore normal vaginal pH balance and moisture. There are different options for hormone therapy including estrogen pills, systemic hormone therapy, and topical estrogen creams, tablets, and rings.
A vaginal dilator is a non-hormonal treatment option that can widen or stretch the vaginal muscles. It’s a device that’s placed directly to the vaginal opening which is used until the vagina is wide enough to reduce pain during sex.
You may also use vaginal lubricants and moisturizers to reduce dryness and loosen the vagina. While it’s a temporary solution, it can enhance moisture and provide comfort during intercourse.
Vaginal dystrophy can get worse if you don’t get an immediate diagnosis and treatment. It can also make you more prone to having vaginal infections and urinary system atrophy. The changes in your pH balance can also be a conducive environment for bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms.
Vaginal dystrophy can be frustrating and embarrassing and have a significant impact on your overall quality of life. Seeking treatment should be your first action if you notice the early signs of vulvovaginal atrophy. Let our specialists at Dermatology and Skin Health give you the treatment that you deserve.
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