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.
A woman’s ovaries make estrogen until menopause, which happens at about 52 years of age. 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, or after ovarian failure or removal, the walls of the vagina become thin, and vaginal secretions are lessened. Similar changes can happen to some women after childbirth, but in this case these changes are temporary and less severe.
Factors that may increase your chance of more severe symptoms of atrophic vaginitis include:
Symptoms of atrophic vaginitis can range from minor to severe. They include:
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal itching or burning
- Vaginal pain
- Problems with sexual intimacy because of painful intercourse
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a doctor specializing in women’s reproductive health.
Your vaginal fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
- A test of the acid-base balance (pH balance) of the vagina
- A swabbing of a small part of the vaginal wall
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options for atrophic vaginitis include:
- Oral estrogen therapy
- Estrogen-containing vaginal creams or vaginal suppositories
- Vaginal moisturizer or lubricant
To help reduce your chance of 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
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Office on Women's Health
The Canadian Women's Health Network
Women's Health Matters
Atrophic vaginitis. A treatable cause of vaginal dryness. Mayo Clin Womens Healthsource. 2002;6:6.
Bachmann GA, Nevadunsky NS. Diagnosis and treatment of atrophic vaginitis. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61:3090-3096.
Castelo-Branco C, Cancelo MJ, et al. Management of postmenopausal vaginal atrophy and atrophic vaginitis. Maturitas. 2005;52 Suppl 1:S46-S52.
Nothnagle M, Taylor JS. Vaginal estrogen preparations for relief of atrophic vaginitis. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69:2111-2112.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.