Chronic Pelvic Pain

Have you been noticing ongoing pain in your pelvic region? Do you experience aching pains or cramps? Has this pain lasted for months on end? If you have been suffering symptoms similar to these then you may be suffering from an extremely common condition known as Chronic Pelvic Pain. Chronic pelvic pain affects millions of women every year and can sometimes be quite debilitating, interfering with work and social activities. Unfortunately, the condition can be difficult to diagnose and it can take time to find suitable treatment. However, with appropriate testing, your health care provider and pain management doctors can help to relieve your symptoms of chronic pelvic pain.

What is Chronic Pelvic Pain (CPP)?

Chronic pelvic pain is the term given to describe any type of pelvic pain that lasts six months or longer. This pain can be ongoing or intermittent, but it usually affects daily lifestyle routines, mood, and even family relationships. CPP currently affects more than 15% of all women in the United States. Unfortunately, the condition is very difficult to diagnose: more than 61% of women suffering from CPP never find out what is causing their pain.

Who Gets Chronic Pelvic Pain?

Chronic pelvic pain is quite common in the United States, and frequently affects women between the ages of 18 and 50. However, certain women do appear to be more at risk for developing the condition. Risk factors include:

  • being between the ages of 26 and 30
  • being African American
  • having undergone previous pelvic surgery
  • having previous pelvic or reproductive infection

What are the Symptoms of Chronic Pelvic Pain?

The main symptom of CPP is pelvic pain lasting for at least six months. This pain may be:

  • intermittent or ongoing
  • mild or severe
  • sharp or dull

Additional symptoms include:

  • heaviness or pressure in the pelvic region
  • pain during intercourse
  • pain during bowel movements

What Causes Chronic Pelvic Pain?

CPP can be the result of a variety of pelvic conditions, or it can be a condition unto itself. Common causes include:

  • Endometriosis: Endometriosis causes the build-up of uterine tissues throughout the pelvis. These tissues shed during menstruation but remain inside the body, causing pain.
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: This infection of the uterus can cause scarring of the fallopian tubes and ovaries, leading to severe pelvic pain.
  • Uterine Fibroids: Fibroids are growths that form on the uterus. These can cause aching sensations or pain when they twist or press upon other pelvic organs.
  • Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that can cause severe and ongoing pelvic pain.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Irritable bowel syndrome can lead to diarrhea, constipation, and other symptoms that may interfere with the pelvic organs.

Diagnosing Chronic Pelvic Pain

Diagnosing CPP can be a very complicated task. Diagnosis will look to rule out certain disorders in an attempt to find the cause of your pain. Your health care provider will likely begin by asking you to describe your pain and its location. You may also be asked to provide detailed information about your reproductive history, including any STDs or infections that you may have had. Your health care provider will also perform a pelvic exam in order to identify any signs of infection or to locate tender areas. Specific tests may also be performed including:

  • abdominal x-rays
  • pelvic ultrasound
  • blood tests
  • vaginal and cervical cultures
  • laparoscopic surgery

Treating Chronic Pelvic Pain

CPP treatment usually depends upon the root cause of the disorder. Depending upon the cause of your pelvic pain, your treatment may include:

  • Pain Relievers: Pain management medications, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, will help to minimize cramps and ongoing abdominal pain.
  • Trigger Point Injections: Abdominal trigger point injections can help to numb painful areas in the pelvic region.
  • Hormone Treatment: CPP is sometimes associated with the menstrual cycle. In these cases hormonal treatment to control ovulation and menstruation may help to relieve pain. The birth control pill is usually an effective treatment.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy, including strengthening exercises and the use of heat and cold therapy can help to relieve minor pain.
  • Surgery: Surgery, including hysterectomy, may be required to rectify pelvic abnormalities that may be causing CPP.

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