Atrophic Vaginitis

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Atrophic vaginitis is characterized by redness, itching and dryness of the vagina. Over time there may be narrowing and shrinkage of the vaginal opening and the vagina itself. Up to 75% of women experience this problem after menopause, and occasionally, childbirth.

Causes of Atrophic Vaginitis

A woman’s ovaries make estrogen until menopause. Before menopause, estrogen in a woman’s bloodstream helps keep the skin of the vagina healthy and stimulates vaginal secretions. After menopause, when the ovaries stop making estrogen, the walls of the vagina become thin, and vaginal secretions lessen.

Similar changes can happen after childbirth, but in this case these changes are temporary and less severe.

Are You at Risk?

Risk factors for atrophic vaginitis or having more severe symptoms include:

  • Smoking
  • Childbirth by cesarean section
  • Never having been pregnant

Symptoms of Atrophic Vaginitis

Symptoms can range from minor to severe. They include:

  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vaginal itching or burning
  • Vaginal pain
  • Problems with sexual intimacy because of painful intercourse

Diagnosing & Treating Atrophic Vaginitis

Tests may include:

  • A test of the acid-base balance (pH balance) of the vagina
  • A swabbing of a small part of the vaginal wall — the cells are collected and tested to determine if estrogen is present

Treatment options for atrophic vaginitis include:

  • Oral estrogen therapy
  • Estrogen-containing vaginal creams or vaginal suppositories

Can I Prevent it?

If you are nearing menopause, take the following steps to help reduce your chances of getting atrophic vaginitis:

  • Ask your doctor if estrogen therapy is right for you
  • Stay sexually active
  • Use a vaginal lubricant
  • Drink plenty of fluids each day


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.