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Getting a Grasp on Pelvic Pain

Getting a Grasp on Pelvic Pain


Most women will experience at least one form of pelvic pain in their lifetime. Ranging from dull to sharp, occasional to constant, or sudden to chronic, pelvic pain can be caused by something as simple as ovulation or as serious as gynecologic cancer.

Two of the most common causes of pelvic pain for women are ovulation and menstruation. Pain during ovulation is temporary, often lasting only a few hours and occurring as a sharp pain on one side of the pelvis. It’s brought on by the release of an egg from the ovary.

Menstrual pain and cramps are also temporary but may last for a few days. This pain may feel more like a jabbing or throbbing sensation and is caused by the uterus contracting as it sheds its lining. Ovulation and menstrual pain can usually be controlled with over-the-counter pain medication.

More Serious Causes of Pelvic Pain

When pelvic pain is not associated with the normal reproductive cycle, it’s time to seek medical help. There are many reasons for abnormal pelvic pain, and it takes an experienced gynecologist, sometimes working with other medical professionals, to uncover the cause.

One of the main reasons for abnormal pelvic pain in women is a condition called endometriosis. This occurs when the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus, grows on the outside of the uterus, usually on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and tissue lining the pelvis. This causes pain that ranges from mild to severe. Endometriosis can also create scar tissue and may make it difficult for a woman to become pregnant.

“Endometriosis is a really difficult diagnosis to make,” says Dr. Kurian Thott, Chief of Women’s and Children’s Services at Stafford Hospital and Medical Director for Stafford Hospital’s Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology (COEMIG) designation. “In fact, many women spend 7-10 years in a healthcare system before getting a true diagnosis because the only way to diagnose endometriosis is through laparoscopic surgery to assess the inside of the pelvis.”

Some other common sources of pelvic pain for women are:

  • pelvic inflammatory disease – a complication of sexually transmitted diseases
  • ovarian cysts – where a follicle doesn’t release an egg or swells with fluid after releasing an egg
  • uterine fibroids – noncancerous growths inside the uterus

For women of child-bearing age, ectopic pregnancy can be a source of pain occurring on one side of the pelvis. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when an embryo attaches itself to the fallopian tube rather than the uterus. It is often accompanied by vaginal bleeding, nausea, and dizziness. Ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Pelvic pain can also be related to a host of other conditions including:

  • appendicitis – inflammation of the appendix which may cause it to rupture
  • irritable bowel syndrome – a group of symptoms that occur together and cause changes in bowel movements
  • pelvic organ prolapse – a collapse of the pelvic floor, causing the bladder or uterus to fall out of place
  • bladder stones – hard masses of minerals that form in your bladder
  • urinary tract infection – a bacterial infection affecting the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • gynecologic cancers

Knowing When it’s Time to Seek Help

If you are experiencing chronic pelvic pain, speak with your doctor or gynecologist to get a proper diagnosis. Many conditions can be resolved with medication or minimally invasive surgery. If you experience sudden, sharp persistent pain, seek medical attention immediately.

Mary Washington Healthcare’s Advanced Gynecologic Program is equipped to provide the latest diagnostic and treatment options for women experiencing pelvic pain. These range from simple lifestyle changes to medications. In some cases, surgery is the best option. Stafford Hospital is one of only six Virginia hospitals certified as a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology (COEMIG) by the Surgical Review Corporation. Programs that earn this designation must adhere to the highest standards in minimally invasive gynecological surgery and meet stringent safety, education, and quality requirements.

At Stafford Hospital, the safety and comfort of our patients is a top priority. We offer treatment for women of all ages in a quiet, clean, and soothing environment that is conducive to healing.

To find a COEMIG-certified physician, call MWHC Health Link at 540.741.1404.