A brighter forecast for women of a certain age…

 Diane Eakin talks about a revolutionary new treatment for woman which is now available in Northern Ireland and London with 3fivetwo Healthcare and Cosmetech.

Do you remember that blissful point in your life when your first baby slept all through the night for the first time and you woke up fresh in the morning after a full night’s sleep?  A red letter day to be shared with all family and friends and an opportunity to bask in the shining thought that maybe this parenting thing was not going to be so difficult after all.

But let us move on a few years – and the odds are that you’re not sharing and talking about the unfortunate and mostly secret legacy of the birth of that baby, and subsequent babies…a legacy that is a common problem for many women – that of not being able to sleep through the night without waking and having to get up to pee.  That, and the stress incontinence – even mild – that means you leak when you laugh, when you cough, or God forbid, when you decide to humour the grandchildren and have a wee jump on their trampoline.

It gets worse (depending on your point of view)…those vaginal muscles were stretched and damaged during birth – sex is painful, the vagina is dry, either too tight or too flabby, an orgasm is difficult and sometimes almost impossible to achieve…and again all of these little milestones you certainly don’t share with women friends and family.  It’s your shameful secret.  Of course, giving birth isn’t the only cause of this damage – rotten old aging can have the same results – none of them good!

It’s a funny thing – women discuss almost everything personal – their husbands, lovers, partners, work worries, their illnesses, their children, teenagers, grandchildren…but not, it seems their leaks!

It is only when you notice that there seems to be a lot of advertisements on television and in women’s magazines for absorbent panty liners that you start to think that you might not be alone. Maybe other women also leak if they cough or attend an exercise class and bounce up and down, perhaps other women have to get up once, twice, even three times a night to go to the loo even when their last drink is taken at 6 p.m.…. maybe more women know that when they feel they need to “go” they “have to go” almost right away or there will be an accident.  Of course that is the price we pay for having children.  Or getting older.  And there is nothing we can do about it.  Or is there?

Well there is a procedure available which, it is claimed, could change our lives in the leaking, stress incontinence, flabby vagina, vaginal dryness, rare orgasm, poor sex, department.  It is a procedure that our American female cousins have been enjoying for the last few years, and it has just started to be used in Great Britain.  Next stop could be Ireland and I was invited to be part of the trial being conducted by the 3fivetwo Organisation to test the efficacy of the procedure.  Read again the sentence at the top of this paragraph and is it any wonder we don’t discuss this with even our most intimate friends.

Well, men are manning up – they are starting to discuss openly their testicles and prostate, and restricted flow.  We need to woman up!  We leak.  Get over it!  We need to talk, we need to try this, we are not alone…and this procedure would appear to be getting the forecasted phenomenal results.

I nearly laughed out loud when I went to try this treatment as I discovered that the long thin bit of equipment (rather like hair tongs only thinner) which is inserted inside the vagina is called a wand. But only nearly laughed as what can you do when the Gynae doctor is waving this around, calling it a wand and you are thinking “magic wand” and trying not to laugh as you know if you laugh you will leak all over his nice clean paper towels on the bed!

The trial for this procedure was fairly uncharted territory for me, so I was relieved to find a brochure in the waiting room explaining what was to happen and what it hoped to achieve…it is called ThermiVa.   (It is, according to the doctor rather like the cosmetic treatment Thermage you can get on your face to restore collagen and make you look younger.  Not my bag, as they say, but I understand the analogy.)

So, here comes the science: 

Excessive stretching of the vaginal muscles is a common occurrence after vaginal birth or due to aging.  Damage can diminish sensation during sexual activity, reduce satisfaction and change the relationship between partners. 

ThermiVa treatments use radiofrequency energy to gently heat tissue to reclaim, restore and revive feminine wellness, without discomfort or downtime. ThermiVa uses a special wand applicator which may be applied externally to labia and vulvar tissues to restore normal tissue tone and function. The specially designed handpiece may also deliver radiofrequency energy inside the vagina to revive atrophic tissue and other structures.

A recent study of 23 patients showed:

All patients showed significant improvement in laxity.

Notable improvement was also seen in cases including:

  • atrophic vaginitis (n=5, improved moisture and comfort)
  • stress urinary incontinence (n=5, noticeable reductions and leakage)
  • orgasmic dysfunction (n=6, noticeable improvement reported)

Patients were able to resume all activity, including sexual intercourse, as normal, immediately after each treatment

That is the science, according to the brochure.  Then came the invitation to try it at The Maypole Clinic in Holywood, Co.Down, home to 3fivetwo Healthcare and Cosmetech, both part of the 3fivetwo Group.

In the waiting room I got talking to a woman who had just had the treatment.  A heavy dose of “sameboatness”  became obvious and I found myself discussing the most intimate details with her.  She was a mother of two boys who have grown up and left home.  She was chicly dressed and confident.  She was in her early sixties and was an enthusiastic runner. Running was causing all sorts of leaking problems.

I spoke to another woman.  She had had twins, had suffered a prolapse of the womb and was still suffering.   She wanted to avoid surgery and has tried other remedies to no avail.  She was trying this procedure to see if it made a difference.

The man with the magic wand is Prof Jim Dornan MD (Hons) FRCOG FRCPI, Chair Health & Life Sciences UU, Emeritus Professor Fetal Medicine QUB  – you could say a very serious baby doctor and gynaecologist.  “Would it help a prolapse in addition to all the other improvements?” I asked.  His reply was conservative but encouraging.  “It can help but it does depend on the extent of the prolapse”.   The patient with the prolapse has agreed to keep in touch with me and report back.

It is recommended that patients have three treatments, each one month apart, and then once a year to keep up the improvements.

I had my first treatment.  I am not sharing all my intimate details but I can say the most obvious improvement after this first treatment is that for the first time in decades I have been able to sleep through the night without getting up to  pee at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.   If you have a baby still waking for a feed twice a night you will understand the pleasure I’m having from this.  (Another notable improvement is only for me and my husband to enjoy!)

The treatment lasts 30 minutes.  On occasions the wand seemed to get a little warm and when I flinched the machine was turned down and I was comfortable again – and for me there was a desperate urge to urinate all through the procedure so I was lying with white knuckles and tensed vagina muscles for 30 minutes which probably did wonders for my pelvic floor but lessened the enjoyment of what would otherwise have been a surprisingly comfortable procedure.

I have now had my second treatment  (and perhaps it was as a result of the first or maybe because I was more relaxed) I didn’t feel I needed to pee throughout.

I am feeling the benefit, and I am going to discuss leaking and urinary urge and dry vaginas at every opportunity with my female contemporaries.  We need to have this conversation.  There is a sea-change out there and we need to do this – for ourselves.  What women used to accept as a prevailing condition no longer has to be such a gloomy forecast.

Diane Harron Eakin

ThermiVa Article by Diane Eakin