What is atrophic vaginitis?

Atrophic vaginitis is the thinning and inflammation of vaginal tissues due to a drop in estrogen levels. This is accompanied by a decrease in lubrication. Symptoms of atrophic vaginitis include itching, burning and discomfort; sometimes a bad-smelling, yellowish discharge may be present. Sexual intercourse may be painful and may be followed by light bleeding.

Estrogen is a female hormone that plays many roles, including keeping the vaginal tissue healthy and lubricated. Estrogen levels naturally drop during menopause; therefore, atrophic vaginitis mostly affects postmenopausal women. It is estimated that 10% to 40% of all postmenopausal women have symptoms related to atrophic vaginitis (Source: AAFP).

Estrogen levels can also be decreased by medications, excessive exercising, anorexia, stress, or depression. Estrogen-reducing medications include hormones used to treat endometriosis, infertility, fibroids, and breast cancer and also some chemotherapy agents. In addition, treatment of cancer with pelvic radiation can reduce estrogen levels, as does surgical removal of the ovaries. Estrogen levels also drop right after a baby is born and while breastfeeding.

Symptoms of vaginal atrophy typically resolve with treatment, which may include prescription estrogen or over-the-counter moisturizing creams or lubricants. Estrogen can be given in a pill to be swallowed or in a variety of forms, such as creams, gels, suppositories or tablets, to be placed in the vagina.

Infections, irritants, allergic reactions, cancer, and other conditions can cause symptoms similar to those of atrophic vaginitis. Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms of atrophic vaginitis or if you are being treated for it but symptoms recur or are persistent.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of atrophic vaginitis?

Symptoms of atrophic vaginitis include pain, itching, or burning of the vagina, as well as discharge. The tissues tend to be thin and dry, so vaginal intercourse may be painful and may be followed by bleeding. Vaginal tissues may also be easily aggravated by irritants, such as powders, perfumes, pads and panty liners, soap, spermicides, and tight-fitting clothes.... Read more about atrophic vaginitissymptoms

CAUSES

What causes atrophic vaginitis?

Atrophic vaginitis is caused by a decrease in estrogen level. Estrogen levels naturally drop immediately following delivery, while breastfeeding, and during menopause. They drop abruptly after surgical removal of the ovaries. Other medical interventions, such as hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, can also lead to decreased estrogen levels, as can excessive exercising, anorexia, stress, and depression.... Read more about atrophic vaginitiscauses

TREATMENTS

How is atrophic vaginitis treated?

Estrogen replacement is one of the main treatments for atrophic vaginitis. It may be replaced locally, so that very little of the estrogen reaches the rest of the body, or systemically, so that it is distributed throughout the body. Over-the-counter moisturizers may also help alleviate some of the symptoms, as can the use of water-soluble lubricants during intercourse.... Read more about atrophic vaginitistreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.