After the birth of three children, a partial hysterectomy, and the removal of one of her ovaries, Kelly Davitt thought her resulting symptoms were just a fact of life.
For about a decade, she had been dealing with vaginal dryness; urinary urgency (with slight incontinence); and reccurring vaginosis, which can cause pain and discharge.
As women age, it’s common for them to experience vaginal atrophy, which is the thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal walls, according to the Mayo Clinic, and often occurs when women are menopausal or postmenopausal when their bodies aren’t producing as much estrogen. It can cause symptoms including vaginal dryness, itchiness, pain during intercourse, and urinary problems like what Davitt experienced.
These symptoms are also common among women who have given birth or have a lack of estrogen due to cancer or cancer treatment, said Dr. Ryan Street, a urologist with Puyallup Surgical Consultants. Street said most of the women who come to the Puyallup Medical Center are midlife and have been dealing with their symptoms for years, just like Davitt.
According to an article released this year by Harvard Medical School, vaginal discomfort affects half of postmenopausal women, but only about 10 percent seek treatment.
It wasn’t until Davitt was chatting with a friend in 2017 that she heard about the MonaLisa Touch procedure, a treatment that might alleviate some of her suffering.
“She was explaining some of the benefits and, although I was still skeptical — since I figured this was just how life was going to have to be — I made an appointment for a consultation with Dr. (Gregory) Lamberton to find out more,” Davitt said.
The MonaLisa Touch uses a fractionated CO2 laser, which also is used for skin imperfections, and U.S. doctors have been using it for vaginal rejuvenation for almost a decade, Street said. The MonaLisa Touch restores collagen to thinning tissue to help rebuild the vaginal wall with three five-minute treatments spaced six weeks apart. Street said other vaginal rejuvenation procedures are available, and they all work similarly to restore collagen, some using high-pressure water or a different kind of laser.
According to the FDA, the administration hasn’t approved “any energy-based medical device for vaginal ‘rejuvenation’ or vaginal cosmetic procedures, or for the treatment of vaginal symptoms related to menopause, urinary incontinence, or sexual function,” which includes the MonaLisa Touch. Doctors are allowed, however, to use drugs and devices outside FDA-approved treatments, and it’s pretty common for them to do so.
Even though the MonaLisa Touch isn’t FDA-approved for vaginal rejuvenation, Street said the
doctors at the medical center agreed it
was among the best options for patients, because it’s low-risk and produces good results.
“The issue with sexual health with females, in particular, is there unfortunately seems to be a movement to put these issues on the back burner, and there hasn’t been a big push to allow the FDA to approve these things,” Street said. “It’s an area of health that’s slow to be recognized from the FDA.”
In the fall of 2017, Davitt had her consultation with Lamberton and felt relieved by the friendly staff and informative meeting. Everyone is different, but Davitt said her first treatment was easier than expected — all she felt was a mild vibration. The other two were a little more painful, with a stinging sensation and some discomfort in the days that followed, Davitt said, but the results were more than she expected. Those late-night bathroom visits caused by the urgency to pee are no more, and increased lubrication is just an added bonus, she said.
“It has changed my life for the better, and I see the change not only on a daily basis but multiple times on a daily basis,” Davitt said. “For as long as I can remember, I have never had so much bladder control than I do now. That fact alone made the procedure worth it.”
Street said it’s common for women to need maintenance appointments every year or so to rebuild the collagen, which Davitt said she’s certainly going to do. The only downside to the procedure is that insurance often doesn’t cover the treatment, Street said. The cost for the three treatments is $1,500, and maintenance treatments are $500.
Davitt said the results are worth the price. Street said 80 percent of patients reported significant improvement, and only a handful of patients nationwide experienced adverse results, including scarring and vaginal pain. Street only wishes that patients would seek treatment sooner.
“I think it’s unnecessary for people to suffer through pain and discomfort that’s potentially damaging to their personal life as well,” he said. “There’s no reason to do that when treatments like this exist.”