Atrophic vaginitis or vaginal atrophy can be defined as when the vaginal walls become thinner, dryer, and inflamed. It usually happens after menopause, when the female body produces less estrogen.
This condition can cause several problems for most women, from vaginal dryness and pain during sex to more complicated issues, such as urinary tract infections. Because vaginal atrophy usually causes both urinary and vaginal problems, experts often refer to the condition as GSM or “genitourinary syndrome of menopause” to describe both the condition and the symptoms it causes.
Luckily, there are effective treatment options available for GSM. While reduced estrogen levels may cause several changes to the female body, it doesn’t mean that GSM should be here to stay.
As a matter of fact, if you are looking for effective vaginal atrophy treatment, our practice and experts are more than ready to help.
Vaginal Atrophy Symptoms
GSM or genitourinary syndrome of menopause can manifest itself through several symptoms and signs. The most common include the following:
- Experiencing unusual discharge from the vagina
- Vaginal burning
- Itching of the genitals and genital area
- Vaginal dryness
- Experiencing a burning sensation during urination
- The sudden and urgent onset of urination
- Frequent urination
- Frequently contracting urinary tract infections
- Urinary incontinence
- Experiencing discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Experiencing light bleeding following intercourse
- Decreased production of vaginal lubrication during sexual arousal and activity
- Tightening and shortening in the vaginal canal
These are the most common vaginal atrophy symptoms. However, not all women experience all of them. If you have any doubts about whether you’re suffering from this condition, below, you will be able to learn more about the reasons that might signal that you need medical help.
When to Visit a Doctor?
Now that you know what is vaginal atrophy, you’re after menopause, and you have been experiencing vaginal dryness and pain during sex, chances are, you are dealing with GSM.
As a matter of fact, many women after menopause experience these problems but only a handful of them seek medical assistance. Some women may find it too embarrassing to discuss these symptoms and discomforts with their general practitioner and may try to actually learn to live with the condition and accompanying uncomfortable symptoms.
However, if you are experiencing frequent, unexplained vaginal bleeding and contract urinary tract infections frequently, unusual burning, soreness, or discharge, it would be best to schedule a consultation with your doctor.
Also, you should consider making an appointment when you’re experiencing vaginal dryness and pain during sex that won’t resolve even after using lubricants and vaginal moisturizers.
5 Signs of Vaginal Atrophy
Even though we have already talked about the most common vaginal atrophy symptoms, we will also detail five of the most common direct signs of the condition below. Also, we will aim to add additional info to alleviate the problems before visiting your doctor.
Sign 1: Unexplained vaginal itching and burning sensation
When the tissues in the vagina get inflamed, often, it’s the direct result of vaginal atrophy. In these cases, women may feel constant burning and an itching sensation in their private areas. The sensations may happen at specific times (after intercourse or during urination) or may happen randomly.
Sign 2: Vaginal Bleeding
Mentioned already as a vaginal atrophy symptom, vaginal bleeding is also frequently a clear sign of the condition. Because the tissues of the vaginal walls become thinner, the blood vessels also become more vulnerable in the area as they have less protection. This can result in blood leakage, especially from sexual relations and pressure from friction.
Sign 3: Urinary Tract Infections
Frequently contracting urinary tract infections could be another clear sign of GSM. As the tissue in the vaginal walls becomes thinner, the chances of catching certain infections are also more likely, as bacteria can spread to your urethra and bladder more efficiently.
Sign 4: Vaginal Dryness and Pain During Sex
After menopause, the female body will also produce less estrogen. This can directly result in reduced production of vaginal fluids that also double as a lubricant during intercourse. When your vagina is dry, intercourse can be difficult and even become painful. This can lead to a myriad of mental issues, apart from losing interest in sex and creating relationship problems between your partner and you.
Sign 5: Trouble Experiencing Orgasms
When sec becomes painful and difficult to enjoy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that women with vaginal atrophy will also find it hard to reach sexual climax, a condition the medical community also refers to as orgasmic dysfunction. After menopause, vaginal atrophy is the main cause of orgasmic dysfunction.
Vaginal Atrophy Causes
GSM or genitourinary syndrome of menopause is a result of a drop in the body’s estrogen levels which is a direct result of menopausal changes. The decreased estrogen levels weaken the vaginal walls making them thinner, less elastic, thinner, and more fragile.
The estrogen level drop will happen mostly after menopause, but it may also occur:
- In perimenopause, which is the period before menopause
- After the ovaries are surgically removed
- While breastfeeding
- When you take medications that affect the body’s estrogen production (like birth control pills)
- After pelvic radiation treatments for cancer
- After chemotherapy
- As a hormonal treatment-side effect
Vaginal atrophy symptoms and signs may appear during perimenopause, which are the years that lead up to menopause, but they can also occur during. And even though it’s a fairly common condition, not every woman will experience atrophy and/or GSM.
As a matter of fact, remaining sexually active with a partner (or without one) can actually help women to keep their vaginal tissues healthy.
Vaginal Atrophy Risk Factors
There are certain risk factors that may contribute to developing GSM or may speed up the development of the condition. These are:
- Lack of vaginal births: Research suggests that those women who have never undergone vaginal delivery have a higher chance of developing vaginal atrophy compared to those who had given birth vaginally.
- Lack of sexual activity: Having sex or masturbating increases blood flow to the vagina, making its tissues more elastic.
- Smoking: Smoking cigarettes has a negative effect on blood circulation, possibly lessening the flow of oxygen and blood to the vaginal area. Smoking will also temper estrogen levels, as it can reduce the amount of the hormone occurring naturally in the body.
Vaginal Atrophy Complications
The condition and GSM may also increase the risks of developing:
- Further vaginal infections: The changes in the vaginal acid balance can also make catching infections easier.
- Urinary problems: The changes that occur with vaginal atrophy may also lead to even more urinary issues down the road. Incontinence, urinary tract infections, burning urination, urgent urination are some of the issues women with vaginal atrophy may face.
Choose Efficient Treatment
Healthy lifestyle choices and remaining sexually active can help with keeping your vagina healthy even after menopause. And even if you are experiencing the symptoms of vaginal atrophy, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about it. Effective treatment options are available, and you don’t have to deal with the discomforts of the condition. As such, if you want to alleviate your symptoms and live a full life again, feel free to reach out to us to discuss your treatment options.