- Pelvis Anatomy
- Causes in Women
- Causes in Men
- Other Causes
- When to Call a Doctor
What is pelvic pain?
Pelvic pain is typically considered to be pain in the lower front of the abdomen, below the umbilicus (belly button). Pelvic pain sometimes arises due to problems with the female reproductive organs, but pelvic pain can occur in both men and women due to other causes.
Pelvic pain can arise due to both acute and chronic problems. Acute pelvic pain is new pain that you have not experienced before. Chronic pain is pain that persists over time. In the pelvis, acute pain is more common than chronic pain.
Pelvic pain can have a number of different causes. Some of the most common causes will be discussed in this article.
What causes pelvic pain in women?
Menstrual cramps or problems (cramps during menstruation). The medical term for menstrual pain is dysmenorrhea. Many women experience mild menstrual pain, but for some women the pain is severe and disrupts their participation in day-to-day activities.
Ovarian cysts can cause pain if they become large, rupture (burst), or become twisted (known as torsion of an ovarian cyst). Most ovarian cysts are small, benign (non-cancerous) and do not cause symptoms.
Fibroid tumors are benign growths of muscle tissue (a fibroid is also known as a leiomyoma) that are common in the uterus (womb). These do not usually cause pain or symptoms, but if they are very large, they may cause heavy menstrual bleeding or swelling of the abdomen. Pelvic pain can arise if there is degeneration (death of tumor cells) within a large fibroid tumor. This happens when a fibroid tumor outgrows its blood supply and starts to shrink.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a condition in which there is widespread inflammation within the reproductive organs, usually due to an infection. The infection is typically a sexually-transmitted disease like gonorrhea or chlamydia. Fever, vaginal bleeding, and vaginal discharge usually accompany the pelvic pain of PID.
Endometriosis is the presence of tissue like the lining of the uterus in other areas of the reproductive organs or elsewhere in the body. It is most common in women in their 30s and can cause heavy periods, severe menstrual cramps, and pelvic pain during sex. A similar condition is adenomyosis, in which areas of uterine lining tissue are located abnormally in the muscle wall of the uterus.
Ovulation can cause pelvic pain. This occurs when the ovary releases an egg at the midpoint of the menstrual cycle. Typically, it is felt on the right or left side, depending upon which ovary the egg has come from. The term "Mittelschmerz" has been used to refer to this kind of pain.
Pelvic congestion syndrome refers to a buildup of blood in the veins of the pelvis. men.
Pain in the vulva, which may be accompanied by burning or stinging sensations, or pain during sex.
What causes pelvic pain during pregnancy?
Some causes of pelvic pain described above, for example, pelvic inflammatory disease can occur in pregnant women. But there are other causes of pelvic pain that are specific to pregnancy.
Ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that develops outside the womb (uterus). The most common location for an ectopic pregnancy is the Fallopian tube. An ectopic pregnancy can lead to life-threatening bleeding if it ruptures. Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include abdominal and pelvis pain along with vaginal bleeding.
Placental abruption, also known as abruptio placentae, is a serious medical condition in which the placenta becomes separated from the wall of the uterus. Pelvic or back pain may result, which can be accompanied by vaginal bleeding.
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What causes pelvic pain in men?
Chronic prostatitis (chronic nonbacterial prostatitichronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS), is a condition that can cause chronic pelvic pain in men. The cause is poorly understood. This pain is sometimes referred to as prostatodynia.
Acute or chronic prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate often due to bacterial infection) is another source of pelvic pain in men.
Other causes of pelvic pain in women and men
Causes of pelvic pain in both women and men include problems with the digestive tract, bone fractures, conditions affecting the urinary tract, or other issues. The following are some of the main causes of pelvic pain in men and women.
Hernia occurs when the abdominal wall is weakened, and abdominal organs may protrude through the area of weakness. Sometimes the tissues that are found inside of a hernia have a decreased blood supply and cause severe pain.
Broken bones of the pelvis.
Post-surgical adhesions (abdominal adhesions) occur when scar tissue forms abnormal connections between parts of the body after surgery. For certain surgeries involving organs of the pelvis, these adhesions can develop and cause pain.
Muscle spasms of the muscles of the pelvic floor can be a cause of pelvic pain that can become chronic. An example is the rectal pain caused by levator ani syndrome or levator syndrome, caused by spasms of the levator ani muscle. This has also been referred to as chronic proctalgia.
What other symptoms are associated with pelvic pain?
Depending on the cause of pelvic pain, there may be other associated symptoms, including
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When should I call my doctor for pelvic pain?
It's important to seek medical care for any unexplained or new pain that is associated with troubling symptoms. In particular, seek medical care if you notice pain, cramping, or bleeding during pregnancy; blood in the urine or stool; abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge; high fever; or severe pain.
What is the treatment for pelvic pain?
Treatment for pelvic pain depends upon the underlying cause of the pain and may involve medications or surgery.
How is pelvic pain diagnosed?
Your health-care professional will first ask you questions about the pelvic pain, including when the pain began, if there are other associated symptoms, what relieves the pain, and if you have any other medical conditions. A physical exam and laboratory studies of blood and urine are the next step in the evaluation. Depending upon your situation, a number of different diagnostic tests may ordered, for example, transvaginal ultrasound, when conditions involving the female reproductive organs are suspected, CT, MRI, or ultrasound imaging studies of the pelvis and abdomen, colonoscopy, and laparoscopy, cultures of abnormal discharge from the vagina or urethra, and pelvic X-rays.
What is the prognosis for a person with pelvic pain?
The prognosis can be excellent for certain types of pelvic pain, such as an ectopic pregnancy that has not ruptured or an uncomplicated UTI. Other types of pelvic pain are likely to recur and may become chronic, such as prostatitis, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, or muscle spasms. Conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease persist over time. Pelvic pain due to cancers likely has the most guarded prognosis, and outcomes in these cases depend upon the stage (extent of spread) of cancer, the specific type of cancer that is present, and the types of treatments available.
Can pelvic pain be prevented?
Pelvic pain can only be prevented to the extent that the specific cause of pain can be prevented. For example, safe sex practices can help prevent sexually-transmitted diseases, reducing the risk of pelvic pain from these infections. Maintaining adequate hydration can help reduce the risk of kidney stones in some cases.
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Bhavsar, A. K., et al. "Common questions about the evaluation of acute pelvic pain." Am Fam Physician. 2016 Jan 1;93(1):41-48A.
Singh, MK, MD et al. Chronic pelvic pain in women. Medscape. Updated: Feb 28, 2018.
Watson, R. A., MD. "Chronic pelvic pain in men." Medscape. Updated: Jan 16, 2015.
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