Vaginal atrophy (atrophic vaginitis) is thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal walls that may occur when your body has less estrogen. Vaginal atrophy occurs most often after menopause.
For many women, vaginal atrophy not only makes intercourse painful but also leads to distressing urinary symptoms. Because the condition causes both vaginal and urinary symptoms, doctors use the term “genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM)” to describe vaginal atrophy and its accompanying symptoms.
What causes vaginal atrophy (GSM)?
During menopause, your body makes less estrogen. Without estrogen, the lining of your vagina can become thinner and less stretchy. Your vaginal canal can also narrow and shorten. Less estrogen also lowers the amount of normal vaginal fluids and changes the acid balance in your vagina. All of these factors make your vaginal tissue more delicate and more likely to become irritated.
Your body can also produce less estrogen during events other than menopause. People who are breastfeeding, receiving cancer treatment, or who have had their ovaries removed can also experience vaginal atrophy due to a lack of estrogen.
Genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) signs and symptoms may include: