Vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) is a common and underreported condition associated with decreased estrogenization of the vaginal tissue. Symptoms include dryness, irritation, soreness, and dyspareunia with urinary frequency, urgency, and urge incontinence. It can occur at any time in a woman’s life cycle, although more commonly in the postmenopausal phase, during which the prevalence is close to 50%. Clinical findings include the presence of pale and dry vulvovaginal mucosa with petechiae. Vaginal rugae disappear, and the cervix may become flush with the vaginal wall. A vaginal pH of 4.6 or more supports the diagnosis of VVA. Even while taking systemic estrogen, 10% to 20% of women may still have residual VVA symptoms. Breast cancer treatment increases the prevalence of VVA because the surgical, endocrine, and chemotherapeutic agents used in its treatment can cause or exacerbate VVA. Local estrogen treatment for this group of women remains controversial.
The initial symptom is often lack of lubrication during intercourse. Eventually, persistent vaginal dryness may occur. Thinning of the epithelial lining may also cause pruritus, soreness, and a stinging pain in the vaginal and vulvar area, which, in turn, may further contribute to dyspareunia. Vaginal spotting, due to small tears in the vaginal epithelium, may also occur. Women with VVA may report a thin yellow or grey watery discharge secondary to the rise in pH that accompanies VVA.
Women with VVA often report symptoms such as urgency, frequency, nocturia, and urge incontinence. Urinalysis may show microscopic hematuria. Recurrent urinary tract infections can also result. Stress incontinence is commonly found in this age group of women, but current evidence suggests it is not directly attributable to VVA.
Women do not always report their symptoms of VVA. They are more likely to report vaginal discharge and urinary urgency but are less likely to report vaginal itching, soreness, or dyspareunia. Women may not report symptoms because they are self-treating, feel the symptoms are not important enough, or are embarassed.