I started a specialty clinic to help women who are experiencing sexual dysfunction. Some of the most common issues my patients experience are pain with intercourse and vaginal atrophy, which usually result from decreased estrogen. Usually the symptoms occur with age, but I’ve also seen them in younger women if they smoke, use medications for fibroids or endometriosis, chemotherapy or are experiencing early menopause.
A decrease in estrogen can lead to a decrease in collagen, elastic tissue and blood vessels, and these in turn cause the vaginal tissue to become thin, tender or easily torn during sex. Other symptoms can include irritation, burning, itching and urinary leakage or urinary urgency. All of these can lead to difficulty achieving orgasm and a decrease in sex drive.
As many as 75 percent of postmenopausal women will experience these symptoms. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to see a physician. Some can occur as a result of other underlying conditions, such as lichen sclerosis or abnormal vulvar cells (that could, if left untreated, lead to cancer). Treatment needs to be tailored to the cause of your discomfort.
One extremely effective treatment now available is a CO2 laser called MonaLisa Touch. Many women have heard of CO2 laser for the face or other parts of the body to help with signs of aging. For the more sensitive area of the vagina, treatment with MonaLisa Touch causes the body to use its own healing response to improve the feeling and appearance of vaginal tissue. It’s done in the office without any cutting or hormones. Typically, patients experience minimal or no discomfort during the treatment. It takes about five minutes and is done in a series of three treatments, six weeks apart.
The CO2 laser treatment can help the vaginal tissue improve elasticity and build new collagen, elastic fibers and blood vessels. Some women have also experienced a decrease in urinary tract infections and urinary urgency.
Last year, Stanford University released a study that showed approximately 92 percent of women were satisfied with the CO2 laser treatment. The elasticity and moisture to the vagina are improved, which in turn reduces discomfort. Some women also experienced an improvement in urinary incontinence. The improved level of comfort can spark sex drive and response.
Melissa Hague is an obstetrician and gynecologist with Heartland Women’s Group and the Women’s Sexual Wellness Clinic.