More About Vaginal Dryness
Vaginal dryness is a common problem for women during and after menopause, although inadequate vaginal lubrication can occur at any age. Vaginal dryness is a hallmark sign of vaginal atrophy (atrophic vaginitis) — thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls due to a decline in estrogen.
A thin layer of moisture coats your vaginal walls. When you’re sexually aroused, more blood flows to your pelvic organs, creating more lubricating vaginal fluid. But hormonal changes associated with your menstrual cycle, aging, menopause, childbirth and breast-feeding may affect the amount and consistency of this moisture.
How Do You Treat Vaginal Dryness?
In general, treating vaginal dryness is more effective with topical (vaginal) estrogen rather than systemic estrogen given orally or by skin patch. Estrogen applied to the vagina can still result in estrogen reaching your bloodstream, but the amount is minimal, especially if a low dose is used.
Vaginal estrogen doesn’t decrease testosterone levels — important for healthy sexual function — the same way oral estrogen can. Vaginal estrogen therapy may also reduce the risk of urinary tract infections.
Talk with your doctor about what dose and what product is appropriate for you. Vaginal estrogen therapy comes in several forms:
- Vaginal estrogen cream (Estrace, Premarin, others). You insert this cream directly into your vagina with an applicator, usually at bedtime. Your doctor will let you know how much cream to use and how often to insert it.
- Vaginal estrogen ring (Estring). A soft, flexible ring is inserted into the upper part of the vagina by you or your doctor. The ring releases a consistent dose of estrogen while in place and needs to be replaced about every three months.
- Vaginal estrogen tablet (Vagifem). You use a disposable applicator to place a vaginal estrogen tablet into your vagina. Your doctor will tell you how often to insert the tablet.
If vaginal dryness is associated with other symptoms of menopause, such as moderate or severe hot flashes, your doctor may suggest systemic estrogen, along with a progestin if you have not had your uterus removed (hysterectomy). Systemic estrogen can be given as pills, patches, gel or a higher dose estrogen ring.
Talk to your doctor to decide if hormone treatment is an option and, if so, which type is best for you. If you have a history of breast, ovarian or cervical cancer, vaginal estrogen therapy may still be an option, but discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.
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