For many women with the condition normal bodily functions, such as urination, can become uncomfortable or even distressing. It can also make intercourse extremely painful.
The symptoms of the condition can be upsetting; however, there are simple, effective treatments that can reduce discomfort and make vaginal atrophy more manageable. Changes occur in the body with age, but treatment is possible.
What Causes Vaginal Atrophy?
Vaginal atrophy, more accurately called genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), is caused by an overall decrease in estrogen in the body. Reduced estrogen causes the vaginal tissues to thin, become dry, lose elasticity, and become more fragile.
Lower estrogen levels occur:
- following menopause
- during the period leading up to menopause
- after surgical removal of the ovaries
- following pelvic radiation for cancer
- after chemotherapy
- as a result of hormonal breast cancer treatment
The signs and symptoms of the condition may arise at any time before or after menopause. And while the condition is common, all menopausal women do not experience vaginal atrophy. Regular sexual activity can help retain the health and elasticity of the vaginal tissue.
What Are the Most Common Symptoms?
While women may experience menopause and its effects differently, there are a number of common signs and symptoms of GSM. Some of the most common effects of the condition are:
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal burning
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Burning during urination
- Urgency with urination
- Urinary tract infections
- Urinary incontinence
- Bleeding after intercourse
- Discomfort with intercourse
- Decreased lubrication during sexual activity
- Shortening and tightening of the vaginal canal
How Is GSM Diagnosed?
An accurate diagnosis is an important step toward treating vaginal atrophy. Diagnosis typically involves a variety of assessments and tests, including:
- Pelvic examination – During the pelvic exam, your doctor will feel the pelvic organs and examine the external genitalia, vagina, and cervix. The doctor assesses your pelvis and organs for signs of prolapse such as bulges in the vaginal walls.
- Urine test – A urine test involves collecting and submitting a urinary sample for analysis to identify any urinary symptoms.
- Acid balance test – An acid balance test assesses the vaginal fluids for indicators of atrophy. This assessment involves taking a sample of vaginal fluid or placing a paper indicator strip in the vagina to assess its acid balance.
How Is It Treated?
A variety of treatments mediate vaginal atrophy. It is likely your doctor begins by recommending a personal moisturizer to increase vaginal lubrication. Some of the first treatment options include:
- A vaginal moisturizer – Moisturizers restore moisture to the vaginal area. They are typically applied every two to three days.
- A water-based lubricant – Lubricants reduce discomfort during intercourse. Avoid glycerin and any petroleum-based products.
Additional treatment options include:
- Topical estrogen – Topical or vaginal estrogen may offer some patients more direct relief of symptoms. This treatment is often applied as a cream administered on the vaginal tissue. It limits overall exposure to estrogen. It also reduces the amount of estrogen transmitted to the bloodstream.
- Oral estrogen – Estrogen can also be taken orally. You’ll want to discuss the risks and benefits of this option specifically with your doctor.
- Laser therapy – An innovative new treatment known as MonaLisa Touch® can reverse atrophy. This option is a painless, minimally invasive laser treatment that rejuvenates the vaginal tissue.
Fortunately, You Don’t Have to Live with Frustrations of Vaginal Atrophy
Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor will suggest a specific treatment plan. Your plan is designed to provide you with the highest level of relief in the shortest time possible. In many cases, the best method of treatment is laser therapy, as it provides nearly immediate relief that improves over time. Most women need only 1 to 3 treatments spaced 40 to 60 days apart. After initial treatment, results can be maintained with annual treatment.
While the specific cost of treatment depends on your exact plan, most patients can expect to pay between $1800 and $3000 for the initial treatments. Your provider will discuss exact costs with you.
One of the many benefits of this form of treatment is its effectiveness and ease of treatment. Most women describe the treatment as a gentle vibration similar to that of a Pap smear. Many patients can resume their normal activity within 1 to 3 days of treatment with little to no issue.
If you or someone you know is dealing with uncomfortable vaginal dryness and discomfort, there is hope. Treatments are available, and options such as MonaLisa Touch®, are effective without being overly invasive or dangerous. Maybe it’s time you consider alternative treatments for vaginal atrophy.