When was the last time you examined your vulva and vagina for changes? If you’re like most women, chances are you’re more likely to feel changes than see them. The vagina is an elastic, muscular canal with a soft, flexible lining that provides sensation and lubrication for everything from intercourse to childbirth. But over time, bodily changes may leave women with symptoms that can affect their physical and mental health. Below are the most common vaginal health conditions affecting women as they age:
1) Vaginal Atrophy
As women age, their estrogen levels drop, particularly during menopause, breastfeeding, and while using birth control pills. This can lead to vaginal atrophy, or thinning of the vaginal wall, which often results in painful intercourse and symptoms like vaginal dryness, burning, or discharge. The drop in estrogen levels can lead to irritation that may affect a woman’s libido. Additionally, lower estrogen levels can affect the vagina’s pH balance, making women more susceptible to infection.
2) Urinary Incontinence
Common during pregnancy, after childbirth, and during and after menopause, urinary incontinence, or the loss of bladder control, is twice as common in women as in men. It’s also more common in older women than younger. Incontinence is often attributed to changing hormone levels, weakened vaginal muscles, and aging.
3) Vaginal Prolapse
Vaginal prolapse is a condition in which structures such as the uterus, bladder, and vagina can fall out of their normal positions due to weakened pelvic muscles. Prolonged labor and delivery can stretch and weaken pelvic floor muscles, especially if a woman has had numerous children. Advanced age, menopause, and obesity are other known causes. Unfortunately, weakened pelvic muscles can lead to dyspareunia (painful intercourse), incontinence, urinary tract infections, and vaginal pain while standing.
If you’re experiencing any of the above issues, treatments range from Kegel exercises that strengthen your pelvic muscles to painless laser therapy that can repair the elasticity of the vaginal walls. Women should never feel nervous or embarrassed about broaching the subject with their physician.