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Atrophic Vaginitis
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Atrophic Vaginitis

Pronounced: a-TRO-fic va-gin-I-tis

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition

Atrophic vaginitis involves redness, itching, and dryness of the vagina. Over time there may be narrowing and shrinkage of the vaginal opening and the vagina itself. This problem happens after menopause in up to 75% of all women, and can also happen to some women after childbirth. Atrophic vaginitis is usually easily treated, so contact your doctor if you think you may have this problem.

Vagina

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Causes

A woman’s ovaries make estrogen until menopause, which happens at about 55 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, the walls of the vagina become thin, and vaginal secretions are lessened. Similar changes can happen to some women after childbirth, but in this case these changes are temporary and less severe.

Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chances of getting atrophic vaginitis or having more severe symptoms. If you have any of these risk factors, be sure to tell your doctor.

Symptoms

Symptoms of atrophic vaginitis can range from minor to severe. They include:

  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vaginal itching or burning
  • Vaginal pain
  • Problems with sexual intimacy because of painful intercourse

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical examination. He or she may refer you to a doctor specializing in women’s reproductive health (a gynecologist). Tests used to diagnose atrophic vaginitis include:

  • A test of the acid-base balance (pH balance) of the vagina
  • A swabbing of a small part of the vaginal wall—The cells are collected and tested to determine if estrogen is present.

Treatment

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

Prevention

If you are nearing menopause, take the following steps to help reduce your chances of getting 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.

RESOURCES:

American Family Physician
http://www.aafp.org

Women's Health.gov
http://www.4women.gov/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Canadian Women's Health Network
http://www.cwhn.ca/indexeng.html

Women's Health Matters
http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca/index.cfm

References:

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, Villero J, Nohales F, Julia MD. Management of postmenopausal vaginal atrophy and atrophic vaginitis. Maturitas . 2005 [Epub ahead of print].

Nothnagle M, Taylor JS. Vaginal estrogen preparations for relief of atrophic vaginitis. Am Fam Physician . 2004;69:2111-2112.



Last reviewed January 2008 by Ganson Purcell Jr., MD, FACOG, FACPE

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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