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Leakage with every sneeze
Frequent UTIs or burning with urination
Dry, itchy discomfort
Shortening or tightening of the vaginal canal
These are symptoms of Vulvar and Vaginal Atrophy (VVA), a thinning of the vaginal walls due to perimenopause/menopause, hysterectomies, oophorectomy, chemotherapy to treat breast cancer, and other hormone-altering life experiences like child birth. It’s not pretty, and most women don’t want to talk about it—not even to their physician.
So I will talk about it in the hope that other women will seek help for what can be a chronic and embarrassing condition. Shame be damned!
I had a hysterectomy in 2013, and life “down below” was never the same. VVA symptoms started appearing shortly afterward, though I didn’t know there was a medical term for it at the time. Symptoms included feeling like I had a UTI (my urologist assured me my bladder was in Olympic condition), leakage during and after intense exercising, and mild discomfort during sex. After months of suffering, I booked an appointment with my gynecologist/surgeon.
Dr. Sherry Neyman of Renaissance Women’s Group in Austin, Texas offered the standard non-invasive VVA treatment: vaginal estrogen cream and lubricants. My blood work showed normal estrogen levels, so we passed on the oral estrogen. She also recommended pelvic-floor exercises to strengthen the affected tissue. I took it a step further and began working with a therapeutic yoga instructor.
While I saw improvement, three years later, things were still not back to normal. Apparently, I’m not alone. Libertas Academica Ltd. reported that less than half of women treated for VVA were satisfied with their treatments, according to their 2014 REVIVE survey. Sadly, women who have had cancer cannot take the treatments at all since they are estrogen based and can increase the risk of recurrence; nor can women who test positive for BRAC or are breast feeding. So, where does that leave us?
The Treatment – MonaLisa Touch®
“This is an FDA medical-grade, class-four laser. It’s just like the lasers we use in the operating room. The joke is that this is the Ferrari of vaginal lasers,” laughs Dr. Neyman when walking me through the features on the $180,000 machine.
The treatment lasts five minutes with the use of a local anesthetic. The vibrating, fractional CO2 laser wand (it’s technically a probe, but that word scares me) is inserted into the vagina and “pulses” hit strategically around the walls, up to the top of the vagina, or cuff for hyster sisters, and back down. Dr. Neyman then hits the outside of the labia with a flat attachment. “Some doctors charge extra for that, but I consider it essential to the procedure.” The goal? Targeted areas will stimulate collagen production much like a Fraxel face treatment. This isn’t an aesthetic endeavor but one of reviving tissue strength and function.
Femlift uses the same technology as MonaLisa Touch®, but the MLT uses proprietary approach specifically designed to treat vaginal atrophy for longer-lasting results, according to Dr. Neyman. ThermiVa and IncontiLase/IntimeLase are radio-frequency treatments, and DiVa is a hybrid alternative. The fractional CO2 laser treatment is considered the most effective as it reaches deeper into the tissue.
Here is a list of FAQ’s found on the MonaLisa Touch website that explains what to expect and how the series of visits (up to three) work. My personal experience included a couple of “zingers” during the procedure that reminded me of a bug bite but not a sting. There was mild discomfort for about a week, and I applied lubricant daily to minimize discomfort.
By Day 7 post-procedure, I noticed an improvement in how I was urinating. It felt more like my youthful, pre-hyster stream. The big test? A three-mile run/walk with my son. Not even a threat of incontinence appeared. (Results may differ from person to person.)
Two weeks in, Dr. Neyman says she starts getting calls and texts from patients saying “it feels a little juicy down there.” Her response? “I send them a smiley face.” Of course 🙂
Is it really that effective?
“I can say that I haven’t experienced anyone who’s been unsatisfied,” stated Dr. Neyman, who has now performed hundreds treatments. “The response has been overwhelming. Women come in in tears not because of discomfort but because they can have sex again. We’ve had one husband come in and hug the machine!”
Pricing for three treatments typically ranges $2,000 to $3,000 (US) depending on where you live. Insurance doesn’t cover it at this time. A “maintenance” visit every two or three years keeps VVA symptoms at bay. I’m more than happy to put it on the calendar given the daily relief and quality of life vaginal rejuvenation can restore.
Dr. Neyman offers automatic discounts to cancer survivors.
The rest of us can use the codeword “SheSpark” when making an appointment for a 20% discount.
For more information, visit http://rwgdocs.com/monalisa.
by Thea Wood, Austin’s Signature Stylist
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