Shrinking vagina - A low-down on vaginal atrophy

  • By Dr. T Deepa Porkodi

Vaginal atrophy can be painful and discomforting but the number of women seeking help for it is very less. This is due to the social taboo associated with sex organs and also due to the fact that several women accept it as a part of menopausal life.

The ovaries produce a hormone estrogen which is responsible for keeping the vaginal skin soft. The secretions are also controlled by the same hormone which maintains the pH and prevents dryness.

During menopause when the production of estrogen stops and the results show on the vagina. The walls start getting thin. The secretions dry up. Similar things also happen immediately after childbirth when the estrogen levels are low. Any medications that have anti-estrogen effect also cause similar effects.

Vaginal atrophy is diagnosed by the following symptoms -

  1. Dryness of the vagina
  2. Itching
  3. Redness
  4. Pain during sex with consequent aversion to sex
  5. Visible shrinking and thinning of the vagina
  6. Irritation while wearing tight clothes
  7. Frequent urinary tract infections

Similar symptoms can also be caused by an infection, irritants like perfumes, powders, condoms, spermicides, or other reasons. Hence, it is important that a firm diagnosis is made before embarking upon treatment.

Mild symptoms do not require treatment. A water based lubricant can be used during intercourse. Petroleum jellies and oils should be avoided as they add to the burning and itching.

Hormone replacement therapy in the form of a patch or tablet can be considered as a form of treatment. But they have side-effects upon long-term use. Instead localized hormone supply in the form of jellies and creams are better suited.

Painful though it may sound, doctors advice sexual activity as a way to deal with atrophic vaginitis. The sexual stimulation leads to lubrication that keeps the vagina soft and prevents dryness.

Preventing atrophic vaginitis is quite possible. Doctors recommend regular sexual activity to avoid facing this condition post menopause. Also, using localized estrogen while the symptoms are still new, aids faster recovery and the condition isn’t allowed to deteriorate. Moreover, creams containing low dose estrogen when applied topically have been shown to increase the growth of new healthy vaginal cells.