Chronic pelvic pain (CPP) is defined as pelvic pain lasting more than 6 months. Some authors add the additional criteria that the pain be noncyclic. It is one of the most common presenting complaints in gynecologic practice, affecting as many as one in seven American women. Chronic pelvic pain comprises up to 10% of outpatient gynecologic visits, accounts for 20% of laparoscopies, and results in 12% (75,000 / year) of all hysterectomies performed annually in the United States. Estimated annual direct medical costs for outpatient visits for chronic pelvic pain in the United States among women 18 to 50 years old is estimated to be $881.5 million. It is often an extremely frustrating condition for both patient and care provider because in many cases an etiology cannot be identified and there is no apparent pathology. Treatment of presumed underlying conditions is frequently ineffective, and the “pain itself becomes the illness.” Because the cause often cannot be identified, chronic pelvic pain is frequently attributed to psychogenic causes. Although these may play a role in chronic pelvic pain for some women with lack of an identifiable cause, this does not necessarily equate with a psychosomatic origin for this complaint.
Common causes of chronic pelvic pain include endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), adhesions, ovarian remnant syndrome, pelvic congestion syndrome, and cyclic uterine pain, which may be caused by primary or secondary dysmenorrhea, uterine myomata, and adenomyosis. History of psychosexual trauma is common in women diagnosed withchronic pelvic pain. Chronic pelvic pain is frequently associated with systemic inflammation, including autoimmune diseases. Peritoneal chronic inflammation is sometimes also associated. A study of chronic pain reveals that the immune system is intimately involved in the production, conduction, and exacerbation of pain and of its clinical features, such as hyperalgesia and allodynia.
Not all pelvic pain is of gynecologic origin; other conditions must be ruled out. Genitourinary pain (e.g., due to interstitial cystitis, urethral syndrome, or overactive bladder), gastrointestinal pain (e.g., irritable bowel syndrome, bowel obstruction, or bowel neoplasm), and neu-romuscular pain are also common causes ofchronic pelvic pain. chronic pelvic pain may be intermittent or continual. Pain is affected by physical and mental fatigue, as well as stress. It may lead to depression and anxiety, dyspareunia (painful sex / intercourse), and difficulties with sleep, decreased ability to work and enjoy normal activities, and may be a contributing factor in job loss, relationship dysfunction and divorce.
Symptoms associated with chronic pelvic pain include:
- • Anxiety and depression.
- • Constipation or diarrhea
- • Dysmenorrhea
- • Fatigue
- • Leg pain radiating from the groin.
- • Loss of interest in social activities
- • Low back pain and a feeling of heaviness in the lower abdomen.
- • Menstrual irregularity
- • Persistent pain despite multiple treatments
- • Reduced libido
- • Sleep disruption
- • Spasms of the vaginal and / or pelvic floor muscles
- • Substance use / abuse
- • Dyspareunia (painful and difficult intercourse / vaginal penetration)
- • Family / relationship problems
Diagnosis of chronic pelvic pain is based on identifying the underlying cause(s). It also may be a diagnosis of exclusion, with no identifiable etiology. Careful attention should be paid to the history and physical examination, particularly a thorough pelvic examination to evaluate for tenderness, pelvic mass, adhesions, or prolapse. Testing may include ultrasound, laparoscopic examination, pregnancy test, CBC, vaginal and cervical cultures, Pap smear, evaluation for GI disorders, and urologic examination.
Differential diagnosis in chronic pelvic pain is really a matter of identifying the possible causes of pain (Table Common Causes of Chronic Pelvic Pain) and treating the etiology while addressing the pain and concomitant symptoms. In patients under 30, the most common causes of pelvic pain include endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease; in older women, causes most likely include uterine myoma, adenomyosis, or pelvic relaxation. It is critical to rule out any serious or life-threatening causes, as well as to assess for depression, anxiety, and serious mental health disorders.
Common Causes of Chronic Pelvic Pain
Ruptured ovarian cyst
Uterine prolapse / pelvic relaxation
Gastroenteritis / Spastic colon
Inflammatory bowel disease
Irritable bowel syndrome
|Musculoskeletal / Neurologic||Arthritis
Conus medullaris lesions
Degenerative joint disease
Low back problems
Nerve entrapment syndromes
Pelvic floor spasm
Vertebral disk disorder
Pain medication seeking
Physical or sexual abuse
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
Conventional Treatment Approaches
The choice of medical treatment for chronic pelvic pain depends on the etiology of the pain, thus necessitating careful diagnosis. Treatment of underlying conditions is the primary treatment strategy. However, in one-third of cases, no etiology is identified. Sympathetic and supportive care is critical, with reassurance and validation of the woman’s symptoms essential, especially in the absence of an identifiable cause. The pain should be treated as a real problem. Multidisciplinary team management of chronic pelvic pain may be the most productive strategy, including the expertise of a gynecologist, a psychologist with expertise in sexual and relationship counseling, and also possibly an acupuncturist for pain management, in addition to the appropriate specialists for the underlying cause. Treatment with medication includes the use of NSAIDs, antidepressants for depression and sleep disorders, and hormonal therapies (i.e., oral contraceptives for management of cyclic pain or gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs for pain associated with endometriosis or uterine fibroids). Trigger point injections of local anesthetics has proved helpful for prolonged pain relief in some patients, as has TENS therapy. Acupuncture has been used with good results in the treatment of dysmenorrhea, and may be beneficial in pain reduction forchronic pelvic pain. Immune modification using steroids and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine, are known to inhibit inflammatory cells and cytokines, such as interleukin-1, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor, which are responsible for pain and tissue damage. These drugs are found to be effective in the treatment of chronic pelvic pain of an inflammatory nature and for symptomatic chronic inflammation of the vagina. Surgical interventions include laparoscopy for the lysis of pelvic adhesions or removal of endometrial tissue, or hysterectomy.
Although hysterectomy without an associated pathology has not proved effective, it is nonetheless indicated as a reason for hysterectomy in 10% to 15% of those performed in the United States. According to one study 25% of hysterectomy patients reported persistent pain 1 year after surgery.
Dietary changes are indicated when the client suffers from digestive complaints such as constipation, bloating, flatulence, overweight, lethargy, excessive fatigue, or irritability accompanying CPP. Achieving an optimal weight and stable blood sugar may lead to improvements in digestion and mood, and increasing dietary fiber and fluids can lead to reduction in constipation and bloating. Additionally, a Mediterranean-type diet with the addition of high quality essential fatty acids can reduce the production of inflammatory mediators, and thus be beneficial in chronic pain reduction. Consider calcium and magnesium supplementation for relief of muscle spasm.
Treatment Summary For Chronic Pelvic Pain
- • Symptomatic pain relief can be achieved with herbal analgesics and antispasmodics. Sedatives can be used if pain interferes with sleep.
- • Anxiety and depression commonly associated with chronic pelvic pain can be treated with botanical anxiolytics and antidepressants which may be combined with herbs for pain relief and sleep promotion.
- • Reduce inflammation with herbs, an anti-inflammatory diet, including EFA supplementation.
- • Treat underlying or associated digestive problems such as bloating, constipation, or IBS.
- • Treat underlying or associated gynecologic or menstrual problems, for example, ovarian cysts, dysmenor-rhea, or endometriosis.
- • Treat underlying or associated urinary problems such as UTI or interstitial cystitis.
- • Treat pelvic congestion syndrome with herbs that stimulate pelvic circulation.
- • Use external treatments such as sitz baths and massage with analgesic essential oils to improve pelvic circulation and relieve pain.
- • Employ muscle relaxation techniques, pelvic muscle re-education, biofeedback, or electrical stimulation to retrain muscle patterns and relieve pain.
- • Mayan uterine massage may be a helpful technique for relieving pain and pelvic adhesions or uterine displacement.
- • Achieve a healthy body weight, good posture, and adequate exercise.
- • Supplement with calcium and magnesium for relief of muscle spasms.
A number of conditions of the reproductive organs can be treated with botanical medicine. Table Condition / Botanical Medicine Summary Table includes a summary of the herbs used to treat these conditions.
Condition / Botanical Medicine Summary Table
|Benign Breast Disorder||Cervical Dysplasia||Chronic Pelvic Pain||Endo- metriosis||Uterine Fibroids|
|Cinnamomum spp and||X|
|Commiphora mol mol|