Vaginal Atrophy (Atrophic Vaginitis)

What Is It?

Vaginal atrophy is a change of the vagina that develops when there is a significant decrease in levels of the female hormone estrogen. The condition also is called atrophic vaginitis. Estrogen, which is produced by the ovaries, plays a vital role in keeping vaginal tissues lubricated and healthy. When levels of estrogen are low, vaginal tissue becomes atrophic — thin, dry and shrunken. The vagina may become more prone to inflammation in an atrophic state. Common conditions with low estrogen levels that cause vaginal atrophy include:

  • Menopause, when normal, age-related body changes cause the ovaries to decrease their production of estrogen

  • Breastfeeding

  • Surgical removal of the ovaries before the age of natural menopause, which can be done at the same time as a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus)

  • Treatment with medications used to decrease estrogen levels in women who have conditions such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis

  • Premature menopause, which occurs before age 40, a younger age than is considered normal for the average woman.

Vaginal atrophy typically develops so slowly that a woman may not notice any symptoms until five to ten years after menopause begins.

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