Vaginal atrophy or dryness is the thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal tissues. It makes everything from having a healthy sex life to undergoing a pelvic exam painful. Women at any age can experience the chafe and sting from vaginal atrophy, but it's most common for postmenopausal women. The good news is that there are natural treatments for vaginal dryness to help you improve your health and wellness.
Symptoms of vaginal atrophy
The symptoms can vary for vaginal atrophy but can include one or more of the following: (1)
- Vaginal discharge
- Vaginal burning
- Vaginal dryness
- Light bleeding during intercourse
- Urinary incontinence
- Urinary tract infections
- Burning with urination
- General itching
- Tightening and shortening of the vaginal canal
- Lessened vaginal lubrication during sexual intimacy
Women may be ashamed or embarrassed when experiencing any of these symptoms, but if you suspect you have vaginal atrophy, speak to your doctor. There’s no reason you should live with the burning, itching, and tightening that comes with extreme dryness of the vaginal walls.
Causes of vaginal atrophy
The cause of vaginal atrophy occurs when the levels of estrogen become low. (2) Estrogen is a vital female hormone, playing a pivotal role in developing feminine characteristics, regulating the menstrual cycle, building healthy bones, and balancing fertility. Menopause is the time when estrogen levels are the lowest.
The North American Menopause Society defines menopause as the time in every woman’s life when she makes the transition from fertile to infertile. Estrogen levels plummet, resulting in painful menopausal symptoms, such as vaginal atrophy, night sweats, weight gain, and mood swings. (3) Menopause has different stages, including: (4)
Perimenopausal: The stage when your body starts to make the shift into not having a period. Your periods may become irregular, short, or long. Perimenopausal symptoms usually begin in the 40s or early 50s, but can affect women in their 30s (known as premature menopause).
Menopausal: This stage is when your body is no longer at risk of becoming pregnant. Women haven't had a period for at least 12 months.
- Postmenopausal: The last stage of menopause is postmenopause. Your body has made the final transition into menopause, and during this time, you may continue to suffer from postmenopausal vaginal atrophy.
Vaginal stenosis is the abnormal condition when the vaginal canal narrows and shortens. The vaginal muscles in the pelvic floor become thin and dry, resulting in the sensation of burning, stinging, and rawness.
The risk of developing vaginal stenosis comes from different factors, one of them being pelvic radiation therapy (PRT). (5) PRT is standard for those battling various cancers, such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, and uterine cancer. In particular, diseases that affect the vagina and uterus are at higher risk of developing vaginal stenosis. Other causes of vaginal stenosis include:
- vaginal reconstructive surgery
- congenital adrenal hyperplasia
- gender reassignment surgery
A hysterectomy is a surgery to take out a woman's uterus and sometimes ovaries and fallopian tubes. (6) The reasons for the removal include having cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids. Removing the uterus and ovaries pushes your body into full menopause by causing estrogen levels to plummet.
Natural treatments for atrophy
Your vaginal health depends on different factors when it comes to atrophy. The following are natural remedies for vaginal pain, discomfort, and dryness.
Many women’s health experts recommend pelvic wands as a treatment option for vaginal atrophy. Designed with physical therapy input, TheraWand uses a luxurious curved design that smoothly enters the vaginal canal. ThereWand are also similar to vaginal dilators and provide a deep pelvic massage. (7)
The curved shape allows you to give yourself a manual massage that increases blood flow to the tender and dry vaginal tissue. One side has a tapered end to make insertion easier. By using the pelvic wand 2-3 times per week for at least 20-30 minutes, the vagina naturally stretches and becomes moisturized.
Natural treatments for atrophy include estrogen therapy. Plummeting amounts of estrogen cause a hormonal imbalance, leading to many painful symptoms, such as vaginal atrophy. Estrogen hormone replacement therapy (ERT) adds back the missing hormones naturally. Women can use estrogen cream to improve vaginal moisture and sexual health. Before beginning ERT, speak to your healthcare professional for medical advice. (8)
Healthy eating can increase your natural lubrication. But you can also focus your eating habits on consuming food that boosts your estrogen production, including: (9)
- Flax seeds
- Dry fruits
- Sesame seeds
By adding these estrogen inducing foods to your diet, you're giving your vaginal tissues much-needed rejuvenation, while also packing your body with tons of vitamins and minerals. Making dietary lifestyle changes is a win-win.
One remedy for vaginal atrophy is to use organic moisturizers and lubricants. You want to invest in vaginal lubricants made with high-quality ingredients that soothe aching skin. Moisturizer with aloe vera and vitamin E enrich the skin cells and blast moisture deep into the pores of the skin.
Increase sexual activity
This may be the best advice you have gotten all day— have more sex. If you go long periods without sexual activity, your vagina can change shape, making sexual intercourse painful. You can also decrease the natural vaginal moisturizer. The good news is that regular sexual activity keeps your vagina flexible and moist.
There's no reason to suffer from a dry and inflamed vagina. By making lifestyle changes and using a pelvic wand, you can increase your quality of life. Speak to your healthcare provider about home remedies for vaginal atrophy— your sexual health depends on it.