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Atrophic Vaginitis

Pronounced: a-TRO-fic va-gin-I-tis

Definition

Atrophic vaginitis is characterized by thinning of the vaginal tissues and reduced elasticity. It is followed by redness, itching, and dryness of the vagina. Over time, there may be narrowing and shrinkage of the vaginal opening and the vagina itself.

Vagina

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Causes    TOP

A woman’s ovaries make estrogen until menopause, which happens at about 52 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, or after ovarian failure or removal, the walls of the vagina become thin, and vaginal secretions are lessened. Similar changes can happen to some women during breastfeeding, but in this case these changes are temporary and less severe. Disordered eating, excessive exercise, and therapies for breast and edometrial cancer may also result in atrophic vaginitis.

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your chance of more severe symptoms of atrophic vaginitis include:

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms of atrophic vaginitis can range from minor to severe. They include:

  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vaginal irritation, itching, or burning
  • Vaginal pain
  • Problems with sexual intimacy because of painful intercourse

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a doctor specializing in women’s reproductive health.

Your vaginal fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

  • A test of the acid-base balance (pH balance) of the vagina
  • A swabbing of a small part of the vaginal wall

Treatment    TOP

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
  • Vaginal moisturizer or lubricant

Prevention    TOP

To help reduce your chance of 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.

RESOURCES:

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org
Office on Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services
http://www.womenshealth.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Canadian Women's Health Network
http://www.cwhn.ca
Women's Health Matters
http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

References:

Atrophic vaginitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115096/Atrophic-vaginitis. Updated February 9, 2015. Accessed March 14, 2016.
Atrophic vaginitis. A treatable cause of vaginal dryness. Mayo Clin Womens Healthsource. 2002;6:6.
Bachmann GA, Nevadunsky NS. Diagnosis and treatment of atrophic vaginitis. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61:3090-3096.
Castelo-Branco C, Cancelo MJ, et al. Management of postmenopausal vaginal atrophy and atrophic vaginitis. Maturitas. 2005;52 Suppl 1:S46-S52.
Nothnagle M, Taylor JS. Vaginal estrogen preparations for relief of atrophic vaginitis. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69:2111-2112.
Rahn DD, Carberry C, et al; Vaginal Estrogen for Genitourinary syndrome of menopause: a systematic review. Obstet Gynecol. 2014 Dec: 124 (6):1147-56.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcie L. Sidman, MD
Last Updated: 4/29/2014

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