Urogenital atrophy is the medical term used to describe the thinning tissues of the vagina and vulva that can happen with the dwindling levels of estrogen that occurs with peri-menopause and menopause.
So, how does your vaginal health stack up?
Symptoms of an aging vagina: Thinning of these nether-region tissues is the common denominator in all of the symptoms that detract from your vaginal health.
- Have you noted vaginal dryness? If you don’t know what I mean by this question then count yourself lucky. Vaginal dryness can range anywhere from a mild awareness like itchiness to extreme discomfort and can show up in many other ways too.
- Is your vaginal opening or vagina so dry and raw that with sexual intercourse it feels like sandpaper or worse, like broken glass? This is what we gynaecologists call dyspareunia. Dyspareunia can present in varying degrees, but one way or the other, intimacy is not pleasant when it should be. The good news is…it doesn’t have to be that way!
- Have you memorized where every bathroom in town is? Urogenital thinning captures the bladder in its dragnet and many women will experience an increased frequency of urination or urgency that can have them planning their route home around bathroom stops.
- How about recurrent bladder infections? Thinning of the urogenital tissues increases the pH of the vagina changing the vaginal flora and increasing the odds of ascending infections. It doesn’t help that the urethra (where we pee from) also loses its squeeze allowing bacteria easy access to the bladder.
- Does it burn when you urinate or has wiping with toilet paper become a necessary evil? Chances are you may also be experiencing vulvar atrophy. Oh to have an old vulva and vagina when the rest of you doesn’t necessarily feel so old…
Don’t despair- there’s still hope for your vaginal health!
Treatment options for restoring youth to your undercarriage: Generally speaking by the time a woman lands on my doorstep they’ve tried all the lubricants and vaginal moisturizers out there. It may have worked at first as a temporizing measure but often the symptoms get to the point where many woman are bothered enough to actually talk to their doctor about ‘it’. I wish woman were comfortable talking about ‘it’ sooner so they could get the help that they need before symptoms really start interfering with their quality of life. So, what else can you do?
It may seem obvious to you that if urogenital atrophy is caused by low estrogen then why not replace the vagina with estrogen! And you’d be right!
Estrogen replacement can be used quite successfully to alleviate or eliminate the symptoms of urogenital atrophy. Estrogen can be administered topically through the skin anywhere on the body or can be administered locally to the vagina itself.
Estrogen must be prescribed by a doctor knowledgeable about hormone replacement therapy and ideally is familiar with bio-identical estradiol and estriol and the importance of balancing these hormones with others.
As a holistic gynaecologist specializing in hormonal health I am well aware of the ins and outs and importance of hormone balance and also understand that many woman either cannot use hormones (eg., many breast cancer survivors) or aren’t comfortable with the idea of hormones. Don’t sweat it-there’s still another option!
CO2 fractional laser therapy
For decades the medical community has used lasers for various conditions but most notable has been the facial resurfacing CO2 fractional lasers (known as the MonaLisa Touch®).
This same technology is now being used for treatment of urogenital atrophy of the vagina/vulva and with tremendous success!
What? Yes it’s true! CO2 fractional laser therapy is revolutionizing vaginal health and I’m feeling pretty jazzed to be one of the first gynaecologist’s in Canada to be using this cutting edge approach for my patients.
I have consistently seen some great results that have been profound for my patients. The principle of this treatment is completely in keeping with my philosophy around healing, as the laser stimulates the body to heal itself.
The studies are very impressive showing that the laser causes re-vascularization, re-collagenization, re-keratinization, improved elastin and glycogen production as well as returning the pH back to normal ranges.
Even better… it’s typically three quick 5 minute in-office treatments 6 weeks apart that does not require anesthesia and there’s no downtime!
So what are you waiting for? Doesn’t your vagina deserve the same respect and attention that you pay the rest of your body?
Dr. Kristy Prouse MD, FRCSC (OB/GYN) is Founder and Chief Medical Officer of the Institute for Hormonal Health, educator of practitioners world-wide, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, Medical Advisor to In-Common Laboratories and Editorial Review Board member for the Integrative Healthcare Practitioner Journal.