Autoimmune diseases are more common in women than they are in men. Up to 78% of people with an autoimmune condition are women. Exactly why this is the case is still up for debate, but researchers cite changing hormones, stress, and genetics as possible reasons. If you’re diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, it’s likely that you’ve encountered a variety of symptoms that increase and decrease in severity over time.
And for some women with autoimmune disorders, vaginal dryness can be a side effect.
Autoimmune diseases that cause vaginal dryness
Two of the most common autoimmune diseases that cause vaginal dryness are Sjogren’s syndrome and lupus.
Vaginal Dryness with Sjogren’s Syndrome
Sjogren’s syndrome affects the moisture-producing glands in your body. Most often this includes your tear ducts and your salivary glands. Common signs of Sjogren’s syndrome are dry eyes and mouth, muscle aches, dry skin, and trouble swallowing and chewing. There’s no one factor that increases your risk for developing Sjogren’s, but it’s most often diagnosed in middle-aged women over the age of 40.
According to Johns Hopkins Sjogren’s Center, women with Sjogren’s are 2-3 times more likely to report vaginal dryness than other women going through menopause. They surmise that Sjogren’s hastens symptoms of menopause, including vaginal atrophy, which contributes to vaginal dryness.
Vaginal dryness with Lupus
Lupus is another common autoimmune condition that can contribute to symptoms of vaginal dryness. Lupus causes inflammation in different parts of your body. Instead of fighting off viruses or other invaders, your body’s immune system starts to fight itself, such as your muscles, tissue, and organs. Because of this, lupus can have a wide range of symptoms, including vaginal dryness. Joint pain, face rashes, tiredness, and headaches are also common symptoms of lupus. In addition to vaginal dryness, women with lupus also experience higher levels of dyspareunia, or pain during sex.
Autoimmune diseases can occur at the same time, such as arthritis and Sjogren’s or lupus and Sjogren’s.’ In fact, up to ten percent of people with lupus may also have Sjogren’s syndrome. Lupus and Sjogren’s also have similar symptoms in many instances, which can make it difficult to diagnose in their early stages or when symptoms first appear.
How to alleviate vaginal dryness from autoimmune disorders
While there is no cure for lupus or Sjogren’s, there are plenty of effective options for relieving unpleasant symptoms, including vaginal dryness.
Use a vaginal moisturizer
A common misconception is that a vaginal moisturizer is the same as a lubricant, which isn’t the case. While you can use it before sex, a vaginal moisturizer is better suited for everyday use. Vaginal moisturizers can alleviate dryness from Sjogren’s or lupus and can help your tissue retain moisture for longer periods of time when used on a regular basis.
Use lubricant during sex
Keep lubricant on hand to use before any sexual activity. Not only can it make intercourse a more pleasurable experience, but it can also help prevent pain from vaginal dryness. Without a lubricant, sex can exacerbate irritation and worsen symptoms of vaginal dryness.
Avoid fragrance in soap
Fragrance is a common ingredient in many soaps, detergents, and perfumes that encompasses quite a range of individual additives. Sometimes fragrance can be irritating or make symptoms of vaginal dryness worse. Check the products in your home to see if they contain fragrance and try using products without to see if it makes a difference in your symptoms.
Make an appointment with a health care provider
If you suspect there may be other reasons for your vaginal dryness or you’re not finding any relief, it’s important to make an appointment to speak with a doctor or healthcare professional. During an appointment, they can help determine if there’s another cause, order tests, and perform a physical examination.
Vaginal dryness is common in women with autoimmune disorders, but it’s not something that’s talked about often. We need to normalize talking about symptoms like vaginal dryness so that more women can get the help they need and aren’t worried about asking personal questions. In time, as we continue these conversations and raise awareness, we will identify and develop new and better options for symptom relief.