Atrophic vaginitis involves redness, itching, and dryness of the vagina. This problem happens after menopause in up to 75% of all women, and can also happen to some women after childbirth. Atrophic vaginitis is usually easily treated, so contact your doctor if you think you may have this problem.
A woman’s ovaries make estrogen until menopause, which happens at about 55 years of age. Before menopause, estrogen in a woman’s bloodstream helps keep the skin of the vagina healthy and stimulates vaginal secretions. After menopause, when the ovaries stop making estrogen, the walls of the vagina become thin, and vaginal secretions are lessened. Similar changes can happen to some women after childbirth, but in this case these changes are less severe and temporary.
The following factors increase your chances of getting atrophic vaginitis or having more severe symptoms. If you have any of these risk factors, be sure to tell your doctor.
- Cigarette smoking
- Childbirth by cesarean section
- Never having been pregnant
Symptoms of atrophic vaginitis can range from minor to severe. They include :
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal itching or burning
- Vaginal pain
- Problems with sexual intimacy because of painful intercourse
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical examination. He or she may refer you to a doctor specializing in women’s reproductive health (a gynecologist). Tests used to diagnose atrophic vaginitis include:
- A test of the acid-base balance (pH balance) of the vagina
- A swabbing of a small part of the vaginal wall to collect skin cells to test the vaginal cell maturation index
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options for atrophic vaginitis include:
- Oral estrogen therapy
- Estrogen-containing vaginal creams or vaginal suppositories
If you are nearing menopause, take the following steps to help reduce your chances of getting atrophic vaginitis:
- Ask your doctor if estrogen therapy is right for you
- Stay sexually active
- Use a vaginal lubricant
- Drink plenty of fluids each day