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Causes of vaginal dryness typically include fluctuations in the level of circulating estrogens in the body. Typically, estrogen production can drop during breast feeding and during the menopausal years. In addition, certain medical conditions such as ovarian failure can cause estrogen decline and subsequent vaginal dryness. Other causes of vaginal dryness may include the use of vaginal douches and common vaginal infections. Frequently, because ovaries produce estrogen, the surgical removal of them may cause vaginal dryness.
Sometimes, causes of vaginal dryness can be attributed to a condition called atrophic vaginitis. This condition is also related to a decrease in estrogen, frequently brought about by menopause. Typically, atrophic vaginitis causes vaginal tissues to thin, lose elasticity, and become dry. Treatment for this condition may include estrogen creams, which can promote the stimulation of vaginal secretions. Sometimes vaginal dryness may cause small tears in the vaginal tissues, which may result in bleeding or spotting.
Generally, if not contraindicated, the physician may recommend the use of hormone replacement therapy. If causes of vaginal dryness are related to menopause, estrogen replacement may be indicated to relieve vaginal dryness. This treatment is available in pill form, as a skin patch, and topically, as a cream. Many times, estrogen replacement therapy is combined with progestin in an attempt to avert the slight, but real risk of uterine cancer. Regular pelvic exams, which include pap smears, should be done when receiving hormone replacement therapy.
Hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, although very effective in treating causes of vaginal dryness, can carry significant risk. Sometimes, HRT can raise the risk of stroke, heart attack, and blood clots. In addition, estrogen may increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Phytoestrogens, which are found in plants such as soy, are natural substances that mimic the effects of estrogen. Some people may find that incorporating soy products into the diet may be effective in treating causes of vaginal dryness.
Commonly, causes of vaginal dryness respond well to simple, over-the-counter lubricants such as Replens® or K-Y® Jelly. These treatments frequently bring quick relief to irritated and dry vaginal tissues, without causing serious side effects. These treatments may be used long-term, because they have an excellent track record of being safe and effective. Patients who experience chronic vaginal dryness should contact a health care provider to make sure dryness is not related to infection. If not treated, vaginal dryness can cause chronically thin tissue, bleeding and pain.
@Kat919 - I experienced some of the same issues while breastfeeding. Then I got pregnant again and it was interesting to see the changes. I don't know if my milk dried up or if my older baby just didn't like it any more. but soon we were not nursing much. I could tell that he wasn't getting much, if any, milk because I felt my body shifting back to its non-nursing state. (Less dryness, more libido, etc.)
Having experienced that temporary issue, I think that when the day comes I will want to seek a medical solution if I have the same problems after menopause. I don't think I would want to do the full-on HRT, but I would be really interested in trying an estrogen cream.
It's one of those dirty little secrets that breastfeeding causes vaginal dryness, so I'm glad to see that the article mentioned it. It's not something that people talk about much, especially because breastfeeding is so good for the baby -- and has so many benefits for mom, too -- that people don't want to talk about the downside.
And with low estrogen, it's not just dryness; most women will have lower-than-usual libido, too. And the dryness can make sex painful. (A nice quality lube is your friend. I like Astroglide because it's glycerin-free.)
I think that for most women and their babies, the benefits definitely outweigh the downsides, but for me it was helpful to know what was causing the issues and that it had an end date. Things got a bit better after baby started eating solid food and my period came back, but didn't totally resolve until baby was totally weaned.
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