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It might surprise you to know that for women, pelvic pain is as common as asthma. In fact, about 15 percent of American women experience it.
Pelvic pain is defined as pain located anywhere in the front or back of the body from the navel to the groin, which has been present for more than six months.
While it is common, due to the personal nature of the symptoms, women often will not talk about their pelvic pain. You should not feel embarrassed to talk to your health care provider about your concerns!
There are dozens of known causes of pelvic pain. Often, pain comes from the bowel, bladder and female organs. Pain may also be related to muscle or joint dysfunction in the pelvis. Finally, nerve pain is a common cause of pelvic pain. Often a woman will have several causes of pain, which can make it difficult to diagnose and manage the pain.
Many women have cramps with their periods, pain with ovulation in the middle of the menstrual cycle, or mild pain that comes and goes. These are common and usually not serious. If your pain interferes with your ability to function then you should seek care.
While some women may experience severe pain, chronic pelvic pain is usually not associated with dangerous conditions. It is important, however, that you talk to your provider about it. A thorough history and examination should be performed to look for anything serious. Your provider may recommend x-ray studies or lab tests.
There are several types of treatments that are commonly used:
Each woman is unique. It’s important to find what treatment approach is right for you. You may need to try several different things to find a combination that works best for you.
While pelvic pain may come and go, there are some warning signs to watch for. If you experience these, contact your provider immediately:
Many women who have chronic pelvic pain may often think they should have a hysterectomy and be done with it. Surgery, however, doesn’t always help. Often pain will stay the same after surgery and sometimes there can be worsening pain if there is scar tissue, nerve injury or other surgical complication. It’s recommended that all non-surgical options are explored before surgery.
If a full work-up shows there is a good chance that the female organs are involved in your pelvic pain, a hysterectomy may be an option.
Over the counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help with pelvic pain. You should not use opioid pain medications for chronic pelvic pain. While these medications may be effective for acute pain following surgery, long-term use of opioid medications is not recommended. Not only can opioids be addictive, but they could be problematic as your body adjusts to the medication and you get less of a benefit from it. Studies have shown that people using opioid pain medications have poorer quality of life and are less functional than those who do not take opioid pain medications. In addition, opioids cause impaired sexual function, weakened immune function, and decreased bowel function, and can also increase pain perception in the entire body.
If you are experiencing pelvic pain, our Pelvic Pain Program can help.