Talking About Women's Intimate Health Can Improve Your Life
AUGUST 29, 2018
Karen Perry was caught off-guard when she started experiencing gynecologic issues that she thought only happened to “older” women. Two years ago at the age of 43, Karen developed stress urinary incontinence and poor lubrication in the vaginal walls.
Not feeling comfortable enough to discuss it with her primary care physician or OB/GYN, she kept it quiet and silently dealt with the discomfort.
“When I sneezed, I often had to cross my legs,” says Karen. “I thought I was far too young to be experiencing these symptoms but I ended up having to wear a pad and I’m only 45 years old.”
A vaginal sling procedure is typically recommended to treat stress urinary incontinence. During the procedure, a surgeon uses strips of synthetic mesh or your own tissue to create a sling or "hammock" under the tube that carries urine from the bladder (urethra), or the area of thickened muscle where the bladder connects to the urethra. The sling supports the urethra and helps keep it closed — especially when you cough or sneeze — so that you don't leak urine.
“I thought about getting the mesh surgery, but I didn’t really want surgery,” Karen says. “I did a little bit of research about other treatment options, but I ended up just putting it in the back of my head and not dealing with it.”
Recently, Karen, an Administrative Coordinator at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), heard about the new Center for Intimate Health and Wellness opening at BIDMC. The Center uses a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to treat women with intimate health and wellness issues. Karen was one of their first patients.
“We recommended vaginal resurfacing as a course of treatment for Karen’s stress urinary incontinence and poor lubrication,” says Roger Lefevre, MD, Director of the Center for Intimate Health and Wellness. “We use a special laser — three treatments are needed over the course of three months, and each session only lasts about four to five minutes. Most patients start to see an immediate change.”
Karen has only had one treatment but is already recommending it to friends and family. She says the laser treatments are painless and only slightly uncomfortable, and she has nothing but good things to say about not only the treatment, but the entire experience.
“The whole experience from working with the office staff to the moment I left the facility has been superb,” Karen says. “I was treated like a VIP and I know Dr. Lefevre does that for all his patients. He has this amazing ability to connect with his patients and make you feel completely comfortable.”
Karen has since learned that intimate health issues are more common among women of all ages than she once thought. She encourages women to speak to their doctor about their concerns.
“My biggest fear was I didn’t think other women were going through this,” Karen says. “But don’t think you’re the only one — there are lots of women dealing with these issues. Don’t be scared. I think back now and realize how silly it was that I didn’t want to address it.”
Karen still has two treatment sessions ahead of her — one in September and one in October. And she might need maintenance sessions over time. But she’s very happy with the results she has seen thus far.
“In addition to the stress incontinence, the other issue definitely presented its challenges,” Karen says of the poor lubrication. “I’ve been with my husband more than 18 years, and intimacy is a really important part of a relationship. This was kind of a bonding experience for both of us. I did it for myself but I did it for my relationship, as well.”