Many women experience pelvic pain in their late teens and early 20s, but only a small fraction report their symptoms to a doctor and seek treatment.
For a new study published in the Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, researchers surveyed 2,000 women and received nearly 400 responses. Almost 80 percent of respondents reported painful menstrual periods, nearly one-third reported painful sexual encounters, and one-fifth reported pain in external genitalia.
Nearly three-quarters of these women did not seek treatment from a physician.
Some of the reasons women say they didn’t talk to a doctor include embarrassment, difficulty with insurance or making appointments, or a lack of empathy and understanding from physicians.
“But a big part of the problem is that women often don’t realize their pain is abnormal,” says Nash Moawad, director of the Center of Excellence for Minimally Invasive Gynecology at the University of Florida.
“There is a significant lack of awareness about pelvic pain in general,” he says. “Some women thought their pain was normal. They think that is how periods are supposed to be.
“But if you are missing days from school or work or have to cancel activities, that is striking. No pain should ever be that severe. If a woman has to take narcotics for pain, or if she has had to drop out of classes, that is not normal. She should see a physician.”
Aside from painful periods, other examples of conditions that cause pelvic pain include endometriosis, which occurs when the uterine lining begins to grow outside the uterus, usually on the ovaries or bowels, ovarian cysts, interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and urinary tract infections.
Endometriosis, for example, is often described as an extremely painful condition, yet it typically takes women five to 15 years to receive a diagnosis for it, Moawad says.
Pain and quality of life
It’s important that women get treatment for pain, because aside from the obvious effects, pain also affects women’s overall health and how they feel about themselves. Women who report higher levels of pain report having a lower overall quality of health—and also report a greater number of sad days and irregular sleep patterns.
“There is a big difference between those with pain and those without pain and their perception of their own health and how it affects their daily activities,” Moawad says.
The study examined pelvic pain and health in a group of college-educated women, a group that typically has access to medical care and is in good health.
Studies examining how pelvic pain affects women in lower socioeconomic groups, who typically have less access to medical care, could reveal that pelvic pain is even more problematic for these women, Moawad says.
“Women need to understand they do not need to wait so long to get help. There are ways to diagnose and treat these conditions.”
Source: University of Florida