Vaginal Atrophy can be a result of low estrogen
For those experiencing a decrease in estrogen, whether due to menopause, pregnancy, surgery or other medical conditions, there is one very uncomfortable reality: vaginal atrophy. Also referred to as atrophic vaginitis, vaginal atrophy is the thinning, dryness and inflammation of the skin lining of the vagina. This decrease can occur during breastfeeding, after surgical removal of one or both ovaries, after pelvic radiation, following chemotherapy, and particularly during perimenopause/menopause. Other symptoms include vaginal itching, burning with urination, and urinary tract infections. Many women often suffer in silence with this condition before speaking to a medical provider about treatment options. But, please rest assured that assistance and treatment is possible! For many women, vaginal atrophy makes intercourse painful, thus leading to a loss of interest in sex. A number of over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers and lubricants such as Pjur Woman, Sliquid H2O, or Blossom Organics Natural can be helpful for those women with minor symptoms and for those concerned about using hormones.
Treatments for Vaginal Atrophy
The medical treatment for vaginal atrophy includes the use of local, low-dose estrogen creams, vaginal estrogen rings, estrogen suppositories and estrogen pills, patches and gels. These therapies are effective and generally well tolerated. Side effects can, however, include vaginal bleeding, breast discomfort, nausea, and thickening of the lining of the uterus. The lower the dose of estrogen, the fewer and less severe the side effects. Researchers are working to develop other non-hormonal treatments because of concerns that even small doses of estrogen could increase the risk of breast and uterine cancer.
All tissues of the body depend on good blood flow for their nourishment and functioning, and the vagina is no different. Engaging in regular sexual activity, either with or without a partner, increases blood flow to the clitoris and vagina to keep those tissues healthy. Similarly, engaging in regular exercise helps by increasing general blood circulation as well as increasing and maintaining the production of testosterone.
Are there products that can help?
The use of vibrating devices, used externally (especially if using internally is too painful) can also help promote blood flow to the clitoris. These devices vary in vibration intensity from a slow rumble to intense vibrations. Battery-operated or rechargeable devices are generally less powerful than electric or corded devices but determining the best device for you is really a personal preference. You can start with a simple “bullet” style (usually low-cost and with fewer vibration patterns) such as the Breeze or the Iconic Bullet, and experiment with different devices like the Revel SOL (has changeable tips) or Siri (no, not the one you speak to on your iPhone). These devices can be used with or without a lubricant (be sure never to use a silicone-based lubricant with a silicone device) and should always be cleaned well before and after every use. Devices that are fully waterproof are incredibly easy to clean and are sometimes even fully submersible, for use in the shower or tub.
As always, speak with your doctor about any symptoms you may be having. Vaginal atrophy affects your intimate life and you, as a result! Both of these are the most important reasons to seek help.