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ATROPHIC VAGINITIS: A real thing or just another term to make women feel bad about themselves?

Did you know that up to 15% of premenopausal women have symptoms of vaginal atrophy, or atrophic vaginitis, while almost 60% of menopausal women experience symptoms? With so many women affected by atrophic vaginitis you would assume that most are familiar with it; however, the reality is that atrophic vaginitis isn't discussed as often as it should be, so many women are not prepared if it happens to them.

Before getting into what atrophic vaginitis is, let's start with the definition of atrophy:

at·ro·phy /ˈatrəfē/ verb 1. (of body tissue or an organ) waste away, especially as a result of the degeneration of cells, or become vestigial during evolution. Similar: waste away, wither, shrivel, dry up, decay...

2. gradually decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect.

If you're like me, you don't appreciate (and maybe even feel a little bad about yourself) if someone were to use phrases like "waste away" or "dry up" to describe your vagina. Unfortunately us vagina owners are stuck with the term atrophic vaginitis when referring to the normal effect of low estrogen levels, mainly menopause, on the vagina.

So what is atrophic vaginitis? Basically it's thinning and loss of elasticity of the vaginal walls that can result in painful sex, irritation, and increased risk of vaginal and urinary tract infections. The most common reason atrophic vaginitis occurs is because of low estrogen that naturally occurs with menopause, but other causes of low estrogen levels include breastfeeding, prolonged birth-control pill use, and anti-estrogen medications used to treat conditions such as breast cancer and endometriosis.

What can be done about atrophic vaginitis? Despite the bothersome symptoms of atrophic vaginitis, approximately 70% of women do not discuss or get treatment for their symptoms. This is likely due to embarrassment and/or bad advice if they did ask about it. Hopefully some of the 70% of women who haven't been treated are reading this so that they can learn about their options. One of these options is vaginal estrogen replacement that can come in the form of a cream, vaginal tablet (suppository), or vaginal ring. The advantage of using vaginal estrogen is that no significant amount ends up in the bloodstream so that even women who have a history of breast cancer can use certain vaginal estrogens. For those who don't want to use vaginal estrogen, a vaginal moisturizer or lubricant that doubles as a moisturizer can be used (may I suggest GLISSANT FDA-cleared water-based lubricant???). Another option is vaginal laser treatment specifically for atrophic vaginitis. You can think about it in terms of how lasers for the face increase collagen and make the skin younger appearing. Laser treatment of the vagina can make it "younger" too. The only downside is that it's not usually covered by insurance.) Why are most things that make us feel prettier and younger not covered by insurance?!?)

If you have symptoms of atrophic vaginitis, don't feel bad about yourself -- take charge and fix it just like you do with everything else in your life. You got this.


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