Vaginal Dryness - "It Feels Like Barbed Wire"
What Is Vaginal Dryness?
Vaginal Dryness (Atrophy) is the thinning and drying of the vaginal walls which can lead to pain and inflammation. Atrophy occurs when the amount of estrogen in the body drops, usually after the menopause.
Vaginal atrophy can cause lots of physical discomfort for those who suffer with it, but it can also have psychological effects. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about vaginal dryness, starting with the symptoms.
Vaginal Atrophy Symptoms
Vaginal atrophy can cause both vaginal and urinary symptoms which is why it can be so debilitating to those who suffer with it. Symptoms include:
- Vaginal dryness, itching and pain.
- Vaginal discharge.
- Pain and urgency with urination.
- Pain during and after sex.
- Bleeding after sex.
These vaginal and urinary symptoms can also lead to psychological distress from painful sex or urinary incontinence and cause embarrassment, isolation and shame. Vaginal atrophy is very common (occurring in about 50% of post menopausal women), yet it’s on the list of health problems that people just don’t talk about. This means women suffer in silence or ignorance their symptoms as they don’t know this is a health condition and not just a normal part of getting older.
Due to most of the suffers being older women, many write off their symptoms as a natural part of getting older, but this simply isn't true. Any pain, discomfort, discharge or bleeding should be followed up with your health professional.
What Causes Vaginal Atrophy?
The ovaries produce the hormone estrogen, which is responsible for keeping the vaginal tissues lubricated and healthy. When the levels of estrogen drop, the vaginal tissues become dry, thin and shrunken. Low estrogen levels are usually caused by natural menopause in older women but can be caused by other things, such as:
- Surgical removal of the ovaries before the age of natural menopause.
- Treatment with medication used to decrease estrogen levels (used to treat conditions such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis).
- Premature menopause.
Another thing to consider (usually in women experiencing natural menopause) is that symptoms usually occur so slowly that women don’t notice that they are developing a health condition.
How to Treat Vaginal Atrophy
While many women might feel hopeless when it comes to these debilitating symptoms, treatments ARE available. For milder symptoms, over the counter treatments like vaginal moisturizers or lubricants to use during sex can do the trick. For more severe symptoms, prescriptions options are also available, such as:
- Estrogen creams or gels which are applied to the vagina.
- Estrogen tablets which are inserted into the vagina with a disposable applicator.
- Estrogen ring which is inserted into the vagina and replaced every few months.
- Oral tablets like Ospemifene.
Your health professional can advise the best course of treatment for you, and this might be a combination treatment.
If you're struggling with symptoms of urinary incontinence, this can helped by strengthening your pelvic floor with a pelvic floor toner. Just like with symptoms of vaginal atrophy, incontinence symptoms are often passed off as a ‘normal’ part of getting older but this simply isn’t true and you do not need to just suffer in silence.
If you’re still menstruating and suffering with vaginal atrophy, using tampons can make dryness and discomfort worse so switching to alternative methods like a reusable menstrual cup might help with your vaginal dryness — or at least not make it any worse.
The outlook for those suffering with vaginal atrophy is usually very good, and with proper treatment symptoms can be eased significantly. You don’t have to suffer in silence if any of these symptoms are affecting you so please visit your health professional and they can best advise a course of treatment for you.