Vaginal Atrophy -- Causes and
Cures
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March 11, 2015
By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist






One common effect of menopause may also affect a woman
at other times of her life. If you are breastfeeding you may
suffer from this condition, or any other time your production
of estrogen drops. The painful, irritating condition we’re
talking about is called "vaginal atrophy".  Vaginal atrophy
affects the walls of your vaginal walls when your body has
less estrogen.

Vaginal atrophy, or atrophic vaginitis, occurs when the
vaginal walls thin, dry-out and become inflamed. Obviously
this sounds painful – and it is. Vaginal atrophy can also make
intercourse painful and undesirable.

Forty-three percent of the US postmenopausal women
interviewed in a 2010 study from the University of Pavia,
Italy had experienced vaginal atrophy – although other
experts put this figure at over 50 percent. Two thirds of
women in the United States described their symptoms as
moderate or severe – definitely severe enough to impact
their everyday life.

If your estrogen levels drop do you have to suffer from
vaginal atrophy? Is there anything you can do to prevent the
condition or ease the discomfort?

What are the Signs of Vaginal Atrophy?

Moderate to severe vaginal atrophy brings a collection of
uncomfortable signs and symptoms. One of the main
problems is
vaginal dryness. In a 2009 study from the New
Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness and Kings College London,
women across the world reported vaginal dryness. Women
under 50 attributed it to inadequate sexual arousal and
women over 50 believed it to be a side effect of aging or
menopause.

Other signs of this condition include

  • vaginal burning and discharge,

  • itching around the genitals,

  • the urgent need to pee,

  • increased incidence of urinary tract infections,

  • incontinence,

  • discomfort during intercourse,

  • bleeding,

  • lack of lubrication during intercourse,

  • loss of hair in your vaginal area and

  • a shortening of the vaginal canal.


What are the Causes of Vaginal Atrophy?

Vaginal atrophy is caused by a drop in estrogen production.
When your body makes less estrogen the tissues in your
vagina are thinner, drier, and more fragile. The most
common reason for a drop in estrogen is menopause or pre-
menopause.

You can also experience a drop in estrogen during
breastfeeding.

Chemotherapy and radiation for cancer, plus surgical
menopause, can also trigger a drop in estrogen and a
consequent increase in the incidence of vaginal atrophy.

If you are a smoker you are more likely to suffer from
vaginal atrophy as smoking affects the circulation of the
blood and results in the vaginal tissues not receiving enough
oxygen. Women who have not experienced a vaginal birth
are more likely to have vaginal atrophy. You are less likely to
have vaginal atrophy if you have regular sexual activity,
either with or without a partner.

Should I See a Doctor?




























Few women seek treatment for vaginal atrophy.  In fact, 51
percent of the women in the 2010 University of Pavia, Italy
study did not know that treatment was available locally for
vaginal atrophy.

The fact is, something
can be done to treat this condition. If
you experience painful intercourse which is not helped by
the use of a lubricant, visit your doctor.

We looked at ways to remedy the pain of vaginal atrophy by
researching recent scientific studies. Here’s what you can do
to make a difference to your life – post- or pre-menopause.




1.
Black Cohosh Helps Treat Vaginal Atrophy

The herb black cohosh is a popular treatment for the signs of
menopause that cause problems, like vaginal atrophy and
vaginal dryness.

Some studies specifically show that black cohosh is useful for
treating not just hot flashes but problems that affect the
vaginal tissues.

For example, a 2003 study from the University of Gottingen,
Germany demonstrates that black cohosh has an estrogen-
like effect and helps to reduce vaginal thinning.

2.
Pueraria Mirifica for Vaginal Atrophy Symptoms

Pueraria mirifica is a herb, and it’s full of phyto-estrogens.
As such, it has been touted as a treatment for menopausal
symptoms.

In a 2007 study from the Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol
University, Bangkok, Thailand the estrogen-like herb showed
promise for improving vaginal dryness.

In another 2007 study, this one by the Prince of Songkhla
University, Thailand the herb was as effective as standard
estrogen treatment for relieving menopausal symptoms
including vaginal atrophy.

3.
Should I Take Estriol for Vaginal Atrophy Rather than
Estrogen?

Much has been said about estriol as a safer alternative to
estrogen treatment for conditions like vaginal atrophy and
vaginal dryness.

Estriol is a special form of estrogen. Studies like a 2000
report from Shimane Medical University, Izumo, Japan show
that estriol is indeed effective for treating vaginal dryness.

But the claims that this form of estrogen does not increase
cancer risk are not proven.

Estriol might cause less vaginal bleeding as a side effect but,
again, this is not proven. You should probably consider
estriol to be on a par with standard estrogen treatment if
you are considering it as a vaginal atrophy remedy.


4.
Over-the-Counter Moisturizers Relieve the Pain of Vaginal
Atrophy

If you are experiencing vaginal dryness, then you can try a
moisturizing remedy designed specifically for the vaginal
area, which can restore moisture and make intercourse more
comfortable.

Water lubricants can also reduce discomfort. And when you
are making love, remember to take your time. Allow yourself
time to become aroused as the lubrication that results will
reduce the burning feeling and the dryness.


5.
Treat Vaginal Atrophy with Isoflavones

Isoflavones are chemicals found in plants like soy. Certain
isoflavones act as phytoestrogens which means they have an
estrogen-like effect on the body.

Phytoestrogen therapy has been shown to have benefits for
women suffering from the side effects of menopause
including vaginal atrophy and vaginal dryness.

A 2005 study from Seconda Università degli Studi di Napoli,
Naples, Italy showed that vaginal dryness persisted or
increased in those women taking a placebo, whereas this did
not happen in women taking a phytoestrogen supplement.


6.
Combination Herbs for Vaginal Dryness and Vaginal
Atrophy

A combination therapy including supplements using the
herbs ginseng, gingko, and damiana, plus the amino acid
arginine proved to increase vaginal lubrication and decrease
vaginal dryness in women suffering poor sexual function,
according to a 2001 study from the University of Hawaii,
School of Medicine, Honolulu. However, further research into
the individual herbs and aside from the combination product
itself will be necessary to see if the benefits are real.

7.
Don’t Focus Solely on Vaginal Lubricants for the
Treatment of Vaginal Atrophy


A 2014 study from the University of Michigan showed that
when women suffering from advanced breast cancer raised
concerns with their physicians about vaginal pain during
intercourse, the solutions focused too exclusively on vaginal
lubricants.  

This type of approach does not fully address the concerns of
women suffering from vaginal atrophy and dryness,
according to researchers.

The researchers suggested that women suffering from this
condition needed information about “nonpenetrative and
nongenitally focused sex, and sexual positions that did not
compromise their physical health yet still provided pleasure.”




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Black cohosh can help heal symptoms of
vaginal atrophy.