The disorder where low levels of estrogen in a woman’s body leads to inflammation, thinning and drying of the vaginal walls is called Vaginal Atrophy. It is present mostly in women who have undergone menopause. For women suffering from vaginal atrophy, sexual intercourse can be painful and sometimes it can lead to distressing urinary symptoms. As the issue is related to the vagina and the urinary tract physicians also use the term “genitourinary syndrome of menopause: to describe the condition.
Symptoms of Vaginal Atrophy
For moderate to severe cases of Vaginal Atrophy, a person might experience bleeding after sex, sexual discomfort, genital itching, vaginal dryness, tightening or shortening of the vaginal canal, burning sensation in vulva or vagina, less vaginal lubrication during sex, UTIs (urinary tract infection) and urgency with urination. Many women do not consult a doctor as they are embarrassed by their issue. It is important to consult a doctor to figure out treatment.
Causes of Vaginal Atrophy
Vaginal Atrophy is caused by a decrease in the amount of estrogen made by the body. The lowered estrogen makes the vaginal tissues weaker, drier and less elastic.
The lowered estrogen can be due to menopause, however, there can be other reasons for premenopausal women to experience Vaginal Atrophy.
1. Perimenopausal period — The years before the menopause sets in, the female body can experience sudden drops in estrogen hormone.
2. Taking certain medications can affect estrogen levels in the body like birth control pills.
3. Surgical Menopause — After surgical removal of the ovaries a woman can go through vaginal atrophy as the estrogen levels drop in her body
4. Pelvic radiation therapy for cancer
5. Breast cancer hormonal treatment
6. During breastfeeding
Not all women who undergo menopause suffer from Vaginal Atrophy. Regular sexual activity can help maintain healthy vaginal muscles.
A proper diagnosis to the extent of the issue is needed to start the treatment of Vaginal Atrophy. Tests like a pelvic exam, urine test, and acid balance test determine the course of action to take. Doctors can prescribe oral estrogen, water-based lubricant and vaginal moisturizer as well as topical vaginal estrogen to tackle the issue. It is very possible to reverse the issue of vaginal atrophy brought on by lowered estrogen levels.
1. Vaginal moisturizers — Vaginal moisturizer can restore some lubrication to the vaginal area. The effects of the moisturizer last longer than a topical lubricant.
2. Water-based lubricants — The lubricants are put on before taking part in any sexual activity to reduce any discomfort during sex. It is best to choose products that do not contain glycerine or warming chemicals as they may cause discomfort for women with dry vaginal walls.
3. Topical Estrogen — Topical estrogen contain chemically synthesised estrogen. They are applied straight to the walls of the vagina are preferred over oral estrogen pills because they are more effective and limit the exposure to chemically synthesised estrogen. Topical Estrogen is available as creams, suppositories, estrogen rings, and tablets.
4. Oral Estrogen — For people suffering from hot flashes and vaginal atrophy, the doctors may prescribe estrogen therapy where a pill containing chemically synthesised estrogen is taken orally. As the hormone enters the bloodstream due to this therapy it is best to consult a doctor about the advantages and disadvantages of the therapy.
5. Vaginal dilatators — For those who cannot take hormones as a part of their therapy doctors prescribe Vaginal dilatators to stretch the vaginal muscles and undo the narrowing of the vagina.
Foods that help increase estrogen levels in the body.
A healthy diet is a key to a healthy life. Vaginal dryness can be cured through various medications but there are also food items that can help increase lubrication naturally.
1. Soy — Soy has isoflavones that act like estrogen and help relieve the symptoms of menopause and improve vaginal lubrication.
2. Sweet Potatoes — Eating sweet potatoes help in strengthening the vaginal muscle tissue and uterine walls. they also help in the production of estrogen.
3. Cranberries — Known for their antibacterial qualities, cranberries are rich in Vitamin C and Vitamin E. They help fight UTIs and improve vaginal health.
4. Yoghurt — The probiotics present in yoghurt help maintain healthy yeast levels in the vagina and help with vaginal health
5. Apples — Antioxidants in apples help in increasing lubrication and increase sex drive.
6. Omega 3 fatty acids — Omega 3 fatty acids help improve blood circulation leading to better lubrication.
7. Avocados — Rich in Vitamin B6, potassium and healthy fats, avocados are anti-inflammatory fruits that can help strengthen the vaginal walls and improve lubrication in the vagina.
8. Green vegetables — Green vegetables like spinach, collard greens, kale etc help improve blood circulation and prevents dryness in the vagina.