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Study Says Pelvic Pain Is Common In Women, But Shouldn’t Be Ignored

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Study Says Pelvic Pain Is Common In Women, But Shouldn’t Be Ignored

Aug 11, 2015

Women may come to expect pelvic pain with their menstrual cycles, but a study by researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine and National Institutes of Health suggests even though discomfort may be common, it should not be ignored. Study author Dr. C. Matt Peterson, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the U of U, talks about how undiagnosed pelvic pain may indicate a condition such as endometriosis, which can cause infertility. He talks about the study and the importance of women, and their doctors, to discuss pelvic pain. Learn more.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: A study says that pelvic pain is surprisingly common among women, and it shouldn't be ignored, up next on The Scope.

Announcer: Examining the latest research and telling you about the latest breakthroughs. The Science and Research Show is on The Scope.

Interviewer: I'm talking with Dr. Matt Peterson, John A. Dickson presidential professor, and chair of the Department of OBGYN at the University of Utah. Dr. Peterson, You're on a study that has some surprising findings with important implications for women and for their doctors. What did you find?

Dr. Peterson: Well interestingly, this is the first large empiric study where we were able to document in a group of women who had their first time diagnosis of endometriosis in this large cohort of patients who did and did not have endometriosis that, one, patients going to surgery had a high incidence of pelvic pain, about 30% of that total cohort had pain. But interestingly, nearly double that number had endometriosis.

Interviewer: What is endometriosis?

Dr. Peterson: Endometriosis is where the glands that belong inside the uterus actually grow extra uterine in locations where they don't normally belong. A 66% increase from the baseline of patients with endometriosis had pelvic pain.

Interviewer: So what does that tell you?

Dr. Peterson: Well, it tells us that pain, pelvic pain is a marker of endometriosis. So just as we have biomarkers or ultrasound evidence of endometriosis, we can have clinical evidence of endometriosis.

Interviewer: In your experience, do women talk about their pelvic pain with their doctors?

Dr. Peterson: Only if asked. And so it's a worthwhile exercise for physicians to ask patients do you have pain with your cycles, when does it occur. Have them characterize the pain, and get some idea where... what types of pain they're having and where its located because those may indicate endometriosis.

Interviewer: And why do you think that is, that women don't routinely talk about their pain? Do they just assume it's part of being a woman? It comes with the territory?

Dr. Peterson: When I ask patients, in someone who, perhaps we've diagnosed with significant endometriosis, and you ask them after the procedure "Were you having pain?" Oftentimes what they'll describe is "Yes, but every woman has pain with her cycles." So I think they tend to minimize what they may be feeling.

Interviewer: So what are the dangers or risks of not mentioning your pelvic pain to your doctor?

Dr. Peterson: Well, if endometriosis is present, part of this study has also documented that women with endometriosis have a higher instances of infertility. So there are consequences with regards to their reproductive organs and their status and how they may function.

There are also consequences by letting endometriosis progress beyond early stages. So endometriosis comes in four stages, and if it is a progressive disorder, and it may be in certain circumstances, then it is important for the doctor to be aware that there's endometriosis, because there are effective methods to suppress endometriosis and potentially even its spread or advancements.

Interviewer: Are there any other important aspects of this study that I haven't covered so far?

Dr. Peterson: I think for the lay public, probably the most important thing is that they shouldn't minimize what they're feeling, and they should communicate what they're feeling and where they're feeling it, because it may indicate things that the doctor needs to explore more fully. And as we have new diagnostic tools, biomarkers, ultrasound, there are non-invasive ways, essentially non-invasive ways, for us to assess if there is something more significant going on. And if there is endometriosis there are things that we can do to mitigate pain, to reduce cycle pain, and improve their chances of fertility.

Announcer: Interesting, informative, and all in the name of better health. This is The Scope Health Sciences Radio.