Northwestern Medicine has launched a first of its kind center dedicated to providing comprehensive care to women for two often unmet areas of women's healthcare – sexual health and menopause. The Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause at Northwestern Memorial Hospital brings together a multidisciplinary team of physicians, advanced practice nurses (APN), certified sex therapists and pelvic floor physical therapists to provide highly specialized and personalized care for each patient. In addition to unique clinical offerings, the center will also feature educational and research components.
"This new center specializes in two elements of a woman's health – sexual health and menopause – that often go unaddressed either because the patient is reluctant to discuss symptoms with their physician or the patient doesn't have access to the correct clinical specialists and treatment options," said Lauren Streicher, MD, medical director of the Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause.
Each patient's care starts before she arrives at the center with a brief phone interview with a patient care coordinator. Using information from the pre-interview, the team will determine each patient's needs and assure that she is scheduled for the appropriate services and with the right specialists.
"Sexual health and menopause are two complex areas of medicine that often require care from more than one specialist or may require procedures or therapies to address," explained Dr. Streicher. "We are planning for every patient before we even see them – if you require pelvic floor therapy, sex therapy, an osteoporosis screening or a consultation with an expert outside of the center, we will coordinate your visit. This takes the complication of scheduling various appointments with various specialists out of the patient's hands, allowing her to focus on her health."
The center features the Comprehensive Program for Sexual Medicine, which addresses the physical, medical, hormonal or emotional issues that interfere with intercourse and intimacy for an estimated 40 percent of all women. In addition to treating conditions including, but not limited to inability to orgasm, decreased libido or painful intercourse, the specialists in the program are uniquely suited to manage sexual problems in women with any chronic medical illness, which can often cause sexual problems or complicate existing problems. These conditions include: cancer including post-chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, post hysterectomy/ovary removal, diabetes, neurological disease, cardiac disease, post heart attack and hereditary genetic mutations (BRCA/Lynch).
"There's so many women who have a physical, hormonal or medical condition that has sabotaged her sex life, yet very few women bring it up to her doctor or if she does bring it up, she isn't offered solutions for her pain, lack of interest or lack of sexual response," said Dr. Streicher. "Whether you are heterosexual, homosexual, self-sexual or just wanting to be sexual, we will evaluate your needs and our team will develop a program that gets you back to your peak sexual health."
The Comprehensive Program for Menopause offers women both hormonal and non-hormonal treatment options to eliminate the symptoms of menopause, which can include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, recurrent bladder infections, insomnia, mood swings, brain fog and weight gain. Even after the menopause transition, women are at increased risk for medical conditions including heart disease and bone loss. The clinicians within this program are Certified Menopause Practitioners through the North American Menopause Society and will manage the complex health needs that come with menopause.
"Most women can expect to live almost 40 percent of their lives after the menopause transition and some even longer if they are in early menopause because of health conditions including removal of the ovaries, chemotherapy or radiation," said Dr. Streicher.
The final element of the Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause is the Comprehensive Program for Vulvovaginal Disorders, which provides treatment options for women experiencing vulvovaginal disorders that cause vulvar and/or vaginal pain, itching, discharge, burning or discomfort.
"Vulvovaginal disorders are often very distressing and frustrating for women, but are also very under-diagnosed and under-treated conditions," said Dr. Streicher. "Our program includes gynecologists, dermatologists, urologists and pelvic floor physical therapists working together to offer remedies to women living with these painful and uncomfortable conditions."
The center's team works collaboratively with specialists from virtually every branch of medicine to deliver individualized care based on each woman's unique needs that takes her overall health into account. In addition to consulting with other specialists caring for their female patients, the sexual medicine team also partners with the Department of Urology to address male sexual health issues that may be impacting a patient's male partner.
"The Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause seeks to not only offer care that improve a woman's health, but also improves the quality of her life," said Serdar Bulun, MD, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern Memorial. "Under Dr. Streicher's leadership, this new center will enable Northwestern Memorial Hospital to become a destination for women seeking innovative and compassionate care for their sexual health needs and menopause, while also furthering our mission to treat women across the spectrum of their lives."