What You Need to Know About Vulvovaginal Atrophy (VVA):
Time takes a great toll on our bodies. As we age, our body goes through dramatic changes. Our skin loses elasticity, hard work causes our bones to ache and cartilage to deteriorate, pregnancies and labors stretch out our stomach, skin and vaginal area.
Like all important organs composing our body that are affected by aging, with time, our vaginal tissues go through dramatic changes as well. As women age, the changes they will experience to their vagina and urinary system, are largely due to the decreasing levels of the estrogen hormone. Loss of estrogen will cause vaginal dryness, vaginal irritation, vaginal itching and may lead to a painful sexual intercourse. These symptoms are related to vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA). Up to 80% of postmenopausal women, suffer from VVA and yet only 20 – 25% seek out help that can drastically improve their quality of life (1, 2).
Causes of Vaginal Atrophy:
Vaginal atrophy occurs in menopausal women due to a decline in estrogen. Without estrogen, vaginal tissue thins and dries out. The vaginal tissue becomes less elastic, more fragile and more easily injured, torn, cracked causing all the above symptoms.
A decline in estrogen can also occur during breast-feeding, after removal of ovaries (surgical menopause) or after chemotherapy, all may lead to having VVA symptoms.
Vaginal atrophy has a significant effect on a woman’s quality of life and sexual health.
Symptoms associated with vaginal atrophy include:
- Vaginal Pain – a condition medically referred as “dyspareunia”. When vaginal walls are dry and fragile, penetration and intercourse can be uncomfortable. The discomfort following sex can lead to soreness in the vagina or burning in their vulva or vagina. Over time and without treatment, the inflammation that may result from infrequent sex without sufficient vaginal lubrication can lead to tearing and bleeding of vaginal tissues during sex.
- Vaginal Dryness and Itching – many women entering menopause will suffer from a drop in estrogen levels that reduce the amount of moisture available, leading to vaginal dryness. Both vaginal dryness and vaginal itching are considered as common symptoms of vaginal atrophy. The lack of vaginal moisture can have a huge impact on women’s sex
- Vaginal Burning – Without estrogen the pH (acidity) of the vaginal secretions changes and becomes more alkaline. This pH affects the balance of the micro-organisms in the natural secretions which in turn suppresses the normal levels of “good” bacteria (lactobacillus). This often leads to vaginal burning and vulva irritation.
Potential Complications of VVA:
Women who suffer from vaginal atrophy are exposed to an increased risk of contracting vaginal infections and urinary problems. Vaginal atrophy, which causes changes in the acidic environment of the vagina, makes it easier for bacteria, yeast, and other organisms to thrive. Some common symptoms associated with atrophy related urinary tract problems include more frequent or more urgent urination or increase urinary tract infections.
How to Diagnose Vaginal Atrophy
If you have been experiencing any of the above symptoms mentioned, you might be suffering from vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA).
Vaginal atrophy has become more and more common among premenopausal and menopausal women. Today, there are a variety of treatments available for women with vaginal atrophy. Vaginal atrophy can be diagnosed during a visit to a gynecologist, who can also offer you a suitable treatment to improve your quality of life and help you achieve your full potential of happiness and comfort.
You do not need to go through this alone. It’s time to take charge of your life. To find out the right treatment for you, please contact your physician and/or click here to find available experienced physicians near you.
- Simon JA. et al. Vaginal health in the United States: results from the vaginal health: insights, views & attitudes survey. Menopause (10) p1043-1048, 2013.
- GLORIA A. BACHMANN, M.D., and NICOLE S. NEVADUNSKY, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, New Jersey Am Fam Physician. 2000 May 15;61(10):3090-3096