Normally, the walls of the vagina stay lubricated with a thin layer of clear fluid. The hormone estrogen helps maintain that fluid and keeps the lining of the vagina healthy, thick, and elastic. During menopause, the drop in estrogen levels reduces the amount of moisture available. It also makes the vagina thinner and less elastic. This is called vaginal atrophy.
In addition to menopause, estrogen levels can drop from:
- Childbirth and breastfeeding
- Radiation or chemotherapy treatment for cancer
- Surgical removal of the ovaries
- Anti-estrogen medications used to treat uterine fibroids or endometriosis
Other causes of vaginal dryness include:
- Sjögren's syndrome (an autoimmune disorder that attacks cells in the body that produce moisture)
- Allergy and cold medications and certain antidepressants
- Lack of enough foreplay before sexual intercourse
No matter what the cause, vaginal dryness can be extremely uncomfortable. It can lead to itching, burning, and painful intercourse.
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