For many women, painful intercourse is the first sign of a postmenopausal condition called vaginal atrophy. Up to half of all women develop this problem, which is caused by the severe drop in estrogen when they reach menopause.
Painful intercourse results from several changes that occur inside the vagina, which means it’s not the only symptom. Here at Fred A. Williams, MD, we work with each woman, developing the treatment that’s best for their overall health, while helping them overcome the distressing and uncomfortable symptoms of vaginal atrophy.
For many, hormone replacement therapy is a safe treatment. Here’s how it effectively restores your vaginal health.
Estrogen maintains your vaginal health
Estrogen is primarily known as the female hormone that regulates ovulation and your monthly cycles. But estrogen’s influence extends far beyond your ovaries and uterus. It has an impact on nearly every part of your body, from your brain and skin to your bones and gums.
Estrogen is also responsible for maintaining the health of your vagina. It’s essential for keeping vaginal tissues lubricated and for maintaining vaginal blood flow. It keeps the tissues lining your vagina thick, strong, and elastic.
A healthy vaginal lining has rugae, which are small folds in the wall. These folds allow the vagina to expand during childbirth and sexual intercourse. Estrogen also increases vaginal acidity, which lowers your risk for bacterial infections.
Vaginal changes caused by low estrogen
Now that you know how estrogen keeps the vagina healthy, it’s easier to envision the changes that occur when your estrogen levels are low.
Without estrogen, your vagina atrophies, a condition called genitourinary syndrome of menopause or more simply, vaginal atrophy. When vaginal atrophy develops, vaginal walls thin out, rugae disappear, and the lining loses its natural moisture and elasticity.
The tissues lining your vagina become fragile and tear easily. Red spots are visible inside the vagina as bleeding occurs just below the surface. The internal vaginal environment becomes less acidic, allowing unhealthy bacteria to thrive and cause vaginal infection and inflammation.
Women who develop vaginal atrophy after menopause experience symptoms such as:
- Vaginal dryness, reported by 100% of postmenopausal women with vaginal atrophy
- Painful intercourse, reported by 78% of women with vaginal atrophy
- Vaginal burning, reported by 57%
- Vaginal itching, reported by 57%
- Thinning of rugae, found in 92% of women when examined by a doctor
- Mucosal fragility, found in 72%
Many women with vaginal atrophy also experience less lubrication during sexual intercourse and bleeding after intercourse.
How hormone replacement therapy restores vaginal health
The goal of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is to restore levels of estrogen back to their normal, premenopausal levels. When you replace the estrogen that’s no longer being produced by your ovaries, you effectively reverse all the vaginal changes.
When you come to Fred A. Williams, MD, for HRT, we begin with a thorough examination and blood work to determine your estrogen levels. Then we prescribe HRT in the dose and the form, such as pills, patches, and vaginal rings, that’s best for you.
To learn whether you’re a good candidate for hormone replacement therapy to restore your vaginal health, call Fred A. Williams, MD, or book an appointment online.