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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.
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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 these changes are temporary and less severe. Disordered eating, excessive exercise, and therapies for breast and edometrial cancer may also result in atrophic vaginitis.
Factors that may increase your chance of more severe symptoms of atrophic vaginitis include:
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
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
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
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.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Office on Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services
The Canadian Women's Health Network
Women's Health Matters
Atrophic vaginitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115096/Atrophic-vaginitis . Updated January 26, 2017. Accessed March 8, 2018.
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.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
- Review Date: 03/2018
- Update Date: 04/29/2014