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Vaginal atrophy refers to inflammation, dryness, and thinning of the vaginal walls. While there are many treatments for vaginal atrophy, some people prefer a natural approach.

This article examines some helpful natural remedies, lifestyle changes, and medical treatments that can reduce symptoms and enhance quality of life for women with vaginal atrophy.

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Exercise can help relieve the dryness that occurs as a result of vaginal atrophy

There are several lifestyle changes that could help women relieve the symptoms of vaginal atrophy.

  • Giving up smoking: Smoking decreases estrogen levels and increases the risk of developing vaginal atrophy, as well as other conditions, such as osteoporosis.
  • Staying sexually active: Sexual activity increases the flow of blood to the genitals, which in turn helps keep them healthy.
  • Avoiding perfumed products: This includes powders, soaps, and deodorants. It is important to note that certain perfumed lubricants and spermicides can also irritate the vagina and cause dryness.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise and physical activity aid hormone balance.
  • Keeping well hydrated: This can help maintain moisture levels in the body.

Diet and vaginal atrophy

At present, scientific research provides little evidence to support any claims that dietary changes can help women with vaginal atrophy.

People with vaginal atrophy should discuss any herbal supplements or dietary changes with their doctor before making any long-term lifestyle changes to manage a condition.

Natural lubricants

Some natural lubricants might help soothe and lubricate the genital area.

These include:

  • jojoba
  • coconut oil
  • aloe vera
  • vitamin E suppositories, which stimulate the vaginal mucosa that lubricate the vagina, as well as helping prevent infections

Complementary treatments

Probiotics are bacteria that have a positive effect on the human body. Limited research on 87 women suggests that probiotics might help relieve the symptoms of vaginal atrophy.

Some women with vaginal atrophy might also develop urinary problems, and probiotics might also be helpful in managing vaginal dryness.

Further research is required to confirm the benefits of probiotics.

As well as natural remedies and lifestyle changes, there are several medications for treating vaginal atrophy.

Many of the following options are available over the counter (OTC):

  • Water-based, glycerine-free lubricants help reduce discomfort during sex.
  • Apply water-based vaginal moisturizers every 2 to 3 days. Their effect lasts longer than a lubricant.
  • Applying topical estrogen cream directly to the vagina relieves symptoms quickly and effectively. It also reduces the exposure of the bloodstream to estrogen.
  • Oral estrogen is also an option.
  • An estrogen-releasing ring can remain in the vagina and release hormones to address the changes.
  • Systemic estrogen therapy is available as a skin patch, an implant under the skin, tablets, or a topical gel.

Systemic estrogen therapy has some potential side effects.

These include:

There might also be a slightly increased risk of developing blood clots and breast cancer with this type of treatment.

However, the benefits usually outweigh the risks.

The effect of previous breast cancer on treatment options

A woman with a history of breast cancer should consult her doctor regarding any potential treatment.

Estrogen can be harmful to women with a history of breast cancer. If the cancer is hormone-sensitive, estrogen might increase the risk of it returning. For this reason, a doctor will not usually recommend systemic estrogen therapy to a woman who has previously had breast cancer.

The following are the best choices for women with vaginal atrophy who have had breast cancer:

  • non-hormonal treatments, such as moisturizers and lubricants
  • low-dose vaginal estrogen if nonhormonal treatments have failed to relieve the symptoms

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Premenopause that occurs alongside conditions that reduce estrogen levels can cause vaginal atrophy.

Vaginal atrophy can occur at any age, although one main cause is reduced estrogen production in the ovaries during menopause.

Estrogen is the hormone responsible for female sexual development and menstrual regularity. It helps promote bone and skin health and supports other tissues in the body. Estrogen can also determine brain activity and mood.

Women with premenopause alongside other medical conditions that reduce the levels of estrogen in the body can also develop vaginal atrophy.

The following factors can reduce estrogen levels:

  • certain types of contraceptives, including the contraceptive injection and the combined pill
  • a lack of arousal before intercourse leading to nonproduction of a woman's natural lubricant
  • breastfeeding or childbirth
  • hormonal cancer treatments, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy to the pelvic area
  • diabetes
  • Sjögren's syndrome, in which the immune system attacks fluid-producing glands in the body

The symptoms of vaginal atrophy can vary, and a woman will not necessarily experience all of them at the same time.

These include:

  • vaginal dryness, discharge, and itchiness
  • loss of libido
  • discomfort during intercourse
  • decreased lubrication during intercourse
  • bleeding after intercourse
  • frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • paleness and thinness to the vagina
  • tightening or shortening of the vagina
  • frequent urination

When to see a doctor

Vaginal atrophy is a highly personal condition, and women might feel embarrassment when discussing symptoms with a doctor.

However, this hesitation can prevent an individual from seeking the treatment they need. The condition is very common, and treatment can yield good results.

Women experiencing the following should seek medical attention:

  • Symptoms are severe and interfering with daily function.
  • Sexual intercourse is painful, and vaginal lubricants do not provide relief.
  • There is bleeding, burning, or discharge from the vagina.
  • Accompanying symptoms occur, such as night sweats and hot flushes.

Effective natural and medical management of vaginal atrophy means that a woman can resume with a good quality of life.

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Q:

What is the best way to treat vaginal atrophy?

A:

Vaginal atrophy is easier to prevent than treat.

Being sexually active, even if you are alone, helps maintain muscle tone and high-quality blood flow to the area. Allow enough time for foreplay to make sure that the vaginal walls are lubricated before penetration.

Use a water-based lubricant or vaginal moisturizer to reduce discomfort and skin irritation. Oil-based products can break down condoms.

If you still experience symptoms, see your doctor. There are estrogen creams that work at a local level with very little getting into your bloodstream. Your doctor might consider vaginal estrogen tablets or a vaginal estrogen ring. This ring releases estrogen in the area and into your blood and needs to be replaced every few months.

And if these measures still do not relieve symptoms, your doctor will consider if you are a candidate for oral hormone tablets. Previous medical conditions, such as cancer, may disqualify a woman from taking hormones orally.

Vaginal issues can be embarrassing to discuss with a healthcare provider about, but help is available.

Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.