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What causes severe vaginal atrophy?

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Quick Answer

Severe vaginal atrophy happens when estrogen levels drop significantly, according to Mayo Clinic. A lack of estrogen causes tissue in the vagina to lose flexibility, strength and hydration.

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Full Answer

Several factors lead to reductions in estrogen levels and vaginal atrophy. Menopause is a common cause, but some women experience atrophy in the years preceding menopause, while others do not observe it until several years into menopause. However, others don't experience atrophy at all, as stated by Mayo Clinic.

Other life events also lead to reductions in estrogen and vaginal atrophy. These include breast feeding as well as several different cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, pelvic radiation therapies and hormonal treatment associated with breast cancer. One strategy for avoiding atrophy is frequent sexual activity, either alone or with a partner, according to Mayo Clinic.

Sexual inactivity is just one risk factor for vaginal atrophy. Regular sex boosts the flow of blood in the vagina and increases tissue elasticity. Women who have never experienced a vaginal birth are also more at risk of developing vaginal atrophy. Finally, cigarette smoking has a negative effect on the circulatory system, keeping the vagina as well as other tissues from receiving sufficient oxygen. Cigarette smoking also hinders the work of estrogen that occurs naturally within the body. Smokers also usually go through menopause at a younger age, reports Mayo Clinic.

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