By: Diana Barnes-Brown for Fibroids1
Many women experience pelvic pain for one reason or another, but its causes often go undiagnosed. Frequently, pelvic pain is written off as being due to menstrual cramps, but in fact, it can indicate a variety of different ailments and conditions, some of which are merely inconvenient, and some of which can have long-term effects on women’s reproductive health and wellbeing.
The lower third of the abdomen is the pelvic region, and there are several organs and structures in the area that can be the culprit of pain or the locus of illness. While self-diagnosis by untrained patients is not recommended, and a qualified health care practitioner is the only person who can make the “final call,” knowing the possible causes of menstrual pain can help patients talk about their symptoms in a productive way, which may lead to a more accurate diagnosis.
Many women experience menstrual cramps at the time of their period or during the few days before getting their period. This is most often due hormones that help the uterine muscles contract to expel the uterine lining during menstruation.
More severe or constant cramping in the pelvic region may be an indication of other ailments, such as endometriosis (overgrowth of endometrial, or uterine lining, cells outside of the uterus), which can also lead to bowel disturbances, scarring of pelvic organs, and other problems, but can usually be treated using a technique such as hormone therapy or balloon ablation.
Uterine fibroids (non-cancerous tumors in the uterus or uterine wall) may also be to blame, because they can disturb tissue and nerve clusters already disturbed by menstruation. They may also cause problems at other times of the month. Fibroids can be treated with a variety of techniques, from uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) to robotic myomectomy to acupuncture.
Women who have scar tissue in the pelvic area, due to prior surgery or infection with certain STDs, are also more vulnerable to cramping pain at the time of their periods. In severe cases, surgery may be required to cut away excess scar tissue.
Other forms of pain in the abdominal area can be misunderstood as period- or uterus-related, while in fact they may be indicators of other potentially severe illnesses.
For example, serious pain that starts near the navel and radiates in the right side of the abdomen, accompanied by nausea and vomiting, can indicate appendicitis, which must be treated with surgery on an emergency basis.
Abdominal pain and bloating that seems to be exacerbated by meals and is accompanied by constipation, diarrhea, and other digestive symptoms may be due to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS can usually be treated with dietary modifications to eliminate allergy- or irritation-provoking foods or, in more serious cases, medication.
Serious, one-sided pain that occurs in spasms or sudden bursts in the lower back area may indicate the presence of kidney stones, also known as nephrolithiasis. Kidney stones can be incredibly painful and may last for days or months before they dissolve or are “passed” from the body, and often require emergency treatment to keep pain at bay. Sometimes, methods like ultrasound or insertion of catheters to draw out the stone may be necessary.
Pain during urination, frequent urination, and pain in the center of the lower abdomen or lower back can indicate a bladder or urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs must be treated by antibiotics, but usually do not cause severe illness if caught before they can spread to other parts of the body.
The conditions listed here represent only a partial list of the culprits of pelvic pain, and are designed to give an overview of the most common offenders. However, those who experience pelvic pain should remember that self-diagnosis is not enough to hone in on the exact cause of discomfort or illness. The best thing that patients who experience any of the above symptoms can do is consult with a trusted health care practitioner. When patients can articulately describe what symptoms and circumstances apply to their current situation, doctors will be better equipped to explore possible causes and treatments.
Also, while consultation with a health care expert is always recommended for diagnosis, patients need not think that the only successful treatment for their pain symptoms involves drugs, surgery, or other invasive procedures. Many medical treatments are becoming less invasive as technology increases, so that even very complex surgeries can be performed through tiny incisions, rather than by cutting extensively into the body, and except in the case of severe conditions that are disruptive to long-term health or the quality of patients’ lives, most medical practitioners.
Finally, alternative therapies – such as acupuncture, massage, meditation, and yoga – may be very helpful for conditions such as uterine fibroids, tough-to-handle menstrual cramps, and more.
The important thing is that patients do not cope with their pain alone, because seeking advice from experts will both reduce the likelihood of an emergency and also help patients to feel well-cared-for, which can a long way to help them cope with their suffering.