Vaginal atrophy, or vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA), refers to when a woman’s vagina becomes thinner, drier, more inflamed, and more painful, often as a result of the reduction in estrogen levels that occur with menopause. This condition can also lead to pain during intercourse and urinary issues, such as leaking urine, urinating more frequently, or feeling stinging and burning sensations while urinating.
However, there are effective methods for treating vaginal atrophy. Many patients use vaginal estrogen creams, tablets, rings, and lubricants to address symptoms of vaginal atrophy, such as dryness and discomfort. However, estrogen replacement therapies continue to be among the most effective ways to address vaginal atrophy, though women with a history of cancer—particularly breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or uterine cancer—are advised against taking estrogen.
Symptoms of vaginal atrophy can first be treated with over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers like Replens, which will need to be reapplied every few days, and by using water-based lubricants during intercourse to reduce discomfort, such as Astroglide or K-Y Touch. Over-the-counter products can provide temporary relief for 2-3 days. Patients will want to avoid products that contain glycerin (which can cause irritation and burning), as well as petroleum jelly or petroleum-based products (which can break down latex condoms).
When over-the-counter products don’t produce the desired results, patients can speak with their doctors about taking topical vaginal estrogen or oral estrogen. Topical estrogen often takes the form of creams, rings, or tablets that release estrogen directly onto the area to be treated, often applied daily, weekly, or monthly. Topical estrogen can be effective at lower doses and can provide better direct relief of symptoms. Oral estrogen is taken by the mouth and distributes estrogen throughout your entire system.