Vaginal atrophy is a change of the vagina that develops when there is a significant decrease in levels of the female hormone estrogen. The condition also is called atrophic vaginitis. Estrogen, which is produced by the ovaries, plays a vital role in keeping vaginal tissues lubricated and healthy. When levels of estrogen are low, vaginal tissue becomes atrophic — thin, dry and shrunken. The vagina may become more prone to inflammation in an atrophic state. Common conditions with low estrogen levels that cause vaginal atrophy include:
Menopause, when normal, age-related body changes cause the ovaries to decrease their production of estrogen
Surgical removal of the ovaries before the age of natural menopause, which can be done at the same time as a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus)
Treatment with medications used to decrease estrogen levels in women who have conditions such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis
Premature menopause, which occurs before age 40, a younger age than is considered normal for the average woman.
Vaginal atrophy typically develops so slowly that a woman may not notice any symptoms until five to ten years after menopause begins.