What’s lichen sclerosus?
I’m Lena and I’m 45 years old. I was diagnosed with lichen sclerosus (LS) at 29.
LS is an auto-immune condition which is fairly common in postmenopausal women, but not generally associated with younger age groups. However, it can, and it does, affect people at any age. As with any other auto-immune disease, the condition arises from an abnormal immune response to a normal body part, resulting in the immune system mistakenly attacking a person’s body. The cause is unknown.
Lichen sclerosus means that patchy, white skin is thinner than normal around the vaginal area. The symptoms can cause redness, an itchy vulva, swollen labia, sore vaginal opening, discomfort, tearing, bleeding and very painful sex.
Before my diagnosis, these symptoms created a great deal of anxiety for me. Sex started to become really painful and the whole area felt really raw. I thought it was down to the fact I had a very small frame – it got to point where I would dread physical contact. I knew something wasn’t right, but I wasn’t sure what the problem was.
Getting help for lichen sclerosus
Whilst many people experience these symptoms, it can still be really difficult to talk about and often the symptoms are mistaken for other more well-known conditions.
I think of myself as one of the lucky ones. I have an incredible OBGYN so I was able to get a diagnosis quickly, and was given steroid creams and a barrier cream which helped to manage my symptoms fairly well.
It was only after I had my children over a decade later that the condition really flared up, my symptoms began to worsen, and the creams stopped working. The area felt tender and there was bleeding and tearing. I didn’t want to have intercourse. Sex was excruciatingly painful, made worse by vaginal atrophy – a thinning and drying of the vaginal walls which happens when the body makes less oestrogen.
That had an adverse effect on my mindset and confidence as I thought that this would now be my life. How would I sustain my marriage? I started having all sorts of really dark thoughts. Starting my perimenopause journey over two years ago also made it 100 times worse.
I was desperate for some help, and by this time my OBGYN was involved in pioneering mesenchymal stem cell work for vaginal regenerative treatment. It was known as LIPOGEMS, a minimally invasive treatment that uses your own natural repair fat cells to treat your problem areas, in this case, the vagina.
This process helps to repair damaged tissue, reduce inflammation and improve blood flow. When my doctor told me about the treatment I jumped at the chance.
Lipogems as a treatment for lichen sclerosus
I was one of the first patients in the UK to try Lipogems. To be honest, I didn’t even hesitate in saying yes to this experimental treatment. I trusted my OBGYN implicitly. She delivered both of my children and had always been incredibly vocal about the importance of women’s health.
I am happy to say that Lipogem has been a huge success for me personally. After the healing period of a few weeks, I no longer felt any pain. I didn’t have any tearing. I felt normal, like I hadn’t felt in years. It has cleared up all of the symptoms I was experiencing so that I no longer have dryness, itchiness or any pain during intercourse.
I felt a massive sense of relief and was really happy that I could resume a healthy physical relationship with my husband. Of course, this has also had a really positive impact on me emotionally.
Since the procedure, I had checkups every three months for the next year, which further reassured and supported me.
Sharing the experience and helping others
As it is often the way, I’ve found the more I talk about it, the more I find younger women suffering from LS symptoms.
I have been really keen to share my story and raise awareness of LS. By sharing my positive experience of the Lipogems treatment, I’m hoping that those who are experiencing perimenopause or going through the menopause realise that there are options to explore when it comes to treating these unpleasant symptoms. I also want to raise awareness that many younger people can suffer from LS too. In fact, it can also start at pre-puberty age.
The group of women who have had the treatment so far all resulted in really positive outcomes and we are all between 23 and 79 years old.
Some final advice
A piece of advice I’d like to give to anyone suffering from these symptoms is to not be scared to ask for help, as leaving it for months and years only exacerbates the situation. As many GPs don’t have this area of expertise, ask to be referred to a gynaecologist from the start.
The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Lowdown or our medical team. For information about your contraception or the different methods available please check out our contraception pages.