Vaginal Dryness and Vaginal Atrophy

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP
    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.

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Vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy facts

  • Vaginal atrophy is the medical term that refers to the thinning of the wall of the vagina that occurs during the menopause (the time when menstrual periods have ceased) in women.
  • Vaginal atrophy occurs due to falling estrogen levels.
  • Vaginal atrophy may be associated with vaginal dryness, itching, irritation, and/or pain during sexual intercourse.
  • Hormone therapy can be effective in treating vaginal atrophy and other menopausal symptoms, but hormone therapy carries its own risks.
  • Local vaginal hormone creams or vaginal lubricants are alternatives to systemic hormone therapy.

What causes vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy?

Vaginal atrophy is the medical term that refers to the thinning of the wall of the vagina that occurs during menopause (the time when menstrual periods have ceased) in women. Prior to menopause, the vaginal lining appears plump, bright red, and moist. As estrogen levels decline, the lining of the vagina becomes thinner, drier, light pink to bluish in color, and less elastic. This is a normal change that is noticed by many perimenopausal and postmenopausal women.

Estrogen levels begin to fall as the menopause approaches. Estrogens are mainly produced by the ovaries. Estrogens control the development of female body characteristics such as the breasts, body shape, and body hair. Estrogens also play a significant role in the regulation of the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.

Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can occur earlier or later in life. The menopause average age is 51 years old. Every woman is different, and there is no definitive way to predict when an individual woman will enter menopause. Also, women in the menopausal transition experience symptoms with varying degrees of severity. Not all perimenopausal and postmenopausal women will have the same symptoms or experience the same levels of severity.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/23/2015

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