Chronic Pelvic Pain
What is chronic pelvic pain?
Chronic pelvic pain, or chronic pelvic pain syndrome, is a long-term condition primarily affecting women. It is characterized by abdominal (belly) pain in the area below the belly button, the pain having been present for at least six months. There are many possible causes for the condition. These causes are often difficult to treat, which can lead to many people with chronic pelvic pain feeling dissatisfied or frustrated. This resource will focus on the condition in women.
Causes of chronic pelvic pain
The pelvis is the lowest portion of the abdomen, containing many organs and complex layers of muscles, nerves and blood vessels. The pain associated with the condition can originate from any part of the pelvis. The reasons why some people develop chronic pain are not well understood.
The pain can come from the digestive tract, the gynecological organs – the uterus or ovaries, for example – the bladder, or from the bones, muscles or nerves in and around the pelvis. The condition most commonly affects women between the ages of 26 and 30. People who have experienced traumatic or highly stressful events or circumstances are more likely to develop chronic pelvic pain.
Symptoms of chronic pelvic pain
The most typical symptom of the condition is pain in the area below the belly button, which must last for a period of at least six months to be considered chronic pelvic pain. The specific characteristics and location of the pain typically differs from person to person. The specifics of each case are often helpful in identifying the cause of the pain.
Other possible symptoms of chronic pelvic pain include:
- Abdominal tenderness
- Pain or difficulty while urinating
- A feeling following urination that the bladder has not been completely emptied
- Waking frequently during the night with the need to urinate
- Pain or difficulty during sexual intercourse
- Pain during menstruation, normally accompanied by abdominal cramps
Diagnosing chronic pelvic pain
A diagnosis will usually be made by a doctor or gynecologist based on the symptoms and a thorough examination of the pelvic area, including a gynecological exam. It can be difficult to identify the exact source of the pain, often making a number of diagnostic tests necessary. This may involve blood tests, urine analysis and smear samples from the vagina and cervix, as well as ultrasound or CT scans.
Chronic pelvic pain treatment
The treatment method for chronic pelvic pain depends on the underlying cause of the condition and most often consists of managing the symptoms.
If the cause is gynecological or muscular, for example, simple pain-relieving medications, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol may be helpful. Physiotherapy, regular exercise and the maintenance of good bowel function may also be helpful for some people. To help process the diagnosis and find strategies to manage the pain, support groups or counseling may also be recommended.
Chronic pelvic pain prognosis
Typically, chronic pelvic pain can be effectively managed, but not completely cured. In many cases, the condition may go into remission for a period before once again returning, making lifetime treatment necessary.
In people who have undergone surgery to manage the condition, pain may still recur, owing to other, undiagnosed sources of pain. Pain may also occur in other areas, such as the lower back or legs, owing to a predisposition to the perception of pain in some people.