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Reproductive Age Women Experience Unexplained Pelvic Pain

First Posted: Aug 12, 2015 02:53 PM EDT

Some women of reproductive age may experience pelvic pain. Endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus, resulting in this chronic disease, is estimated to affect roughly 6.3 million women in the United States.

Yet new findings published in the journal Human Reproduction show that more than a third of women who reported pelvic pain in a recent study did not have a pelvic condition. 

"Our study suggests that many reproductive-age women are experiencing but not reporting some form of pelvic pain," said Dr. Karen Schliep, of the National Institute of Child Health and Development, in a press release. "If they aren't doing so already, gynecologists may want to ask their patients if they're experiencing pain, as well as the type and precise location of the pain, and offer treatment as appropriate. Similarly, women should let their doctors know if they're in pain."

In this study, researchers surveyed 473 women between the ages of 18 and 44 before they had either surgery or an imaging procedure for pelvic-related concerns, including a mass or lump in the pelvic region, menstrual irregularities, infertility or tubal sterilization.

Participants were asked about their pelvic pain in the previous six months and whether they had 17 specific types of pain related to sexual intercourse, urination, their menstrual period or bowel elimination, as well as other pain, including joint pain, migraine headaches and/or muscle pain. They were also asked if they could indicate on a diagram the area where they felt the pelvic pain based on a figure of a standing female.

Findings revealed that over 30 percent of participants reported that they were experiencing chronic pain and cycling pain lasting over six months. Thirty percent included not only those with pelvic disorders, but some without any pelvic condition. Furthermore, regardless of the reason for their diagnosis for an operation, only 3 percent involved in the study reported having none of the 17 types of pain, while over 60 percent reported six or more types of pain.

"Future research should explore causes of pelvic pain among women who seek out gynecologic care but with no apparent gynecologic pathology," researchers concluded. "Given our and other's research showing little correlation between pelvic pain and American Society for Reproductive Medicine staging [criteria] among women with endometriosis, further development and use of a classification system that can better predict outcomes for endometriosis patients with pelvic pain for both surgical and nonsurgical treatment is needed."

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