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Health

The Great Taboo

AFTER SOME thought I have decided I must share my story with you as I want to raise awareness of a horrible condition, but thankfully one that can now be alleviated or even cured.

I first noticed symptoms around two and a half years ago, experiencing excruciating pain in my vaginal area when having sex with my husband. I looked in a mirror and realised my vulval skin was split in several places and bleeding.

It was unbearable. It felt like my skin was burning, as if a red-hot poker was touching my skin with razorblades attached.

My GP recommended Vaseline, which didn’t help at all, but eventually it healed.

On a second occasion, while trying to have sex, the same thing happened again, but now the excruciating pain was coming from the inside, and soon after I also developed inflammation and sores.

For a long time I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was tested for lichen sclerosis, cancer, even herpes. I had patch testing done for allergies and I had three biopsies. Everything came back negative.

I saw a gynaecologist, skin specialists and a pain specialist. It was the pain specialist that gave the condition a name – vulvodynia. He said that a trauma to the vaginal area can put the nervous system on high alert and that the burning pain I was feeling inside was the nerves around the entrance to my vagina.

Even though it had a name and I knew where the pain was coming from, it seemed it was very hard to treat.

Looking for an answer

The gynaecologist gave me Gabapentin, an anti-epileptic drug that can calm nerve pain. You start on a low dose and gradually build up until you can tolerate the pain. I was on such a high dose I got side effects (dizziness and tiredness) and it dulled the pain a bit, but not enough, so I stopped. I also tried numbing creams and gels but nothing worked.

I did a lot of research after that and came to the conclusion that I had vaginal atrophy, which is what happens to some women in menopause.

We have all heard of vaginal dryness because of menopause, but no one tells us about splitting skin, nerve pain, inflammation and itching.

These things happen at menopause when our oestrogen levels drop, so I had my hormone levels tested and started taking bio-identical hormones, which are made in a compound to the exact levels you need. Although this made me feel better in myself, it didn’t help with the skin splitting and the nerve pain.

My husband was supportive from the start, and was fully aware of the problems I was experiencing. It had a massive impact on the intimate relationship we shared and not being able to fulfil that part of our relationship made me feel bad.

The condition had taken away my femininity and confidence. My skin could also tear just turning on a chair or doing yoga.

Then I heard about Mona Lisa Touch from an online support forum where women from all over the world with vulvodynia discuss their problems and treatments. Many women reported remarkable results from the treatment, most of them in America, but one of the girls had experienced treatment in the UK. Amazingly one of the few places in England that had a Mona Lisa Touch machine was in Essex, where I live.

The Mona Lisa Touch

The concept behind the Mona Lisa Touch is simple. The machine is a type of CO2 Laser, which is used internally and externally. When the laser is fired it damages the skin, which leads the skin to thicken and renew itself, turning paper-thin dead-white skin back to pink, healthy skin.

It thickens the vaginal walls and the skin on the vulva and even helps with urinary incontinence, as the vaginal walls have more strength to support the bladder.

I was treated by gynaecologist Dr Philip Robarts at the Baddow Hospital in Essex. He was amazing, explaining that he would use a smaller probe to start with and apply some numbing cream, too. The smaller probe only treats one side of the vaginal wall then a larger probe treats all over the vaginal wall.

It was painless on the inside and the outside didn’t hurt either, it just made me jump a bit when the laser fired.

On my next appointment he used the bigger probe and it only hurt a little when it was put in. The reason it did not hurt more was that I had already started to heal.

Dr Robarts explained that the skin on my vulva had become thin due to the menopause, and the skin around my nerve endings at the entrance to my vagina had also become thin, and that is why I had the awful nerve pain.

I thought I would never be able to have sex again and had been looking for a treatment for so long that I had almost given up. This painless treatment with no drugs whatsoever has cured me. It’s unbelievable.

Treatment is usually three to four sessions six weeks apart, though sometimes it may take a few more. A once yearly treatment is then needed to maintain the results.

For more information about Mona Lisa Touch go to (www.monalisatouch.com) or contact Sarah Field for information about clinics in the UK, e-mail: (sfield@cynosure.com).

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