Everyone loves a good menopause joke, but its symptoms are no laughing matter – especially when they make life uncomfortable (or even painful) in a woman’s most sensitive areas. More than half of all women you know experience vaginal dryness, itching, burning, or painful intercourse when estrogen levels drop following menopause. The same goes for patients entering early menopause as a result of chemotherapy.
It’s a common predicament that drives many women to seek out experts like Julie Schnieders, executive director at the St. Vincent Carmel Women’s Center. “Some say toilet paper is making them bleed, or sexual activity is difficult. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between spouses, and the husband doesn’t understand why he’s being shut out,” she shares. “It affects different people at different degrees.” A nurse practitioner specialized in women’s health, Schnieders explains the vagina needs estrogen for its health – a hormone that’s often depleted during menopause or chemotherapy.
Traditionally, hormonal therapy has been women’s go-to recourse. One obstacle, however, is that it’s not a treatment doctors can approve for all patients, due to safety concerns. Among women who are good candidates for hormone therapy, some decide against it. “Maybe you’re lazy like I am,” says Schnieders, explaining the procedure requires putting estrogen in the vagina a couple of times a week, whether in pill, cream, or ring form, for years.
“There’s a cost to that too,” she adds, “which can be pretty pricey, even with insurance.” (Think $50–$100 every month for 10 years.) That long-term commitment and investment means many women give up and stop treatment at some point.
Thankfully, technology is catching up, making relief faster and easier. For a growing number of women, that relief comes through the MonaLisa Touch – a discreet, painless, five-minute procedure designed to resolve vulvovaginal symptoms.
The MonaLisa delivers gentle laser energy to the vaginal wall tissue, which stimulates a healing response, and feels much like a routine pap smear. “There’s no pain, no downtime. Some women are on their phone the whole time,” shares Schnieders. Treatment typically involves three procedures six weeks apart. For many women, relief is immediate after the first procedure.
Each treatment runs at $650 at St. Vincent Carmel Women’s Center, the first hospital in Indiana to offer the MonaLisa. Although not covered by insurance, Schnieders reasons the treatment offers considerable savings and value over conventional, long-term hormonal therapy. “Plus, we work with patients who cannot afford this to make it possible for them,” she says.
“The main thing: women don’t have to put up with discomfort,” concludes Schnieders, noting that symptoms won’t go away without treatment. “These are difficult things to talk about but you’re not alone, and we have the tools to fix it.”