Pelvic pain originates from the layer of tissue covering organs and their connecting structures in the pelvis, mainly the peritoneum (the membrane lining the cavity of the abdomen and covering the abdominal organs). Pelvic pain can also include pain that comes with dysmenorrhea (painful cramps during menstruation), menorrhagia (excessive menstrual bleeding) and dyspareunia (pain with sex), all of which are common symptoms of endometriosis.
While there is no specific classification system for pelvic pain, there are certainly different levels of pelvic pain and cramping that women can experience.
While most women experience mild cramps, not all cramps are painful. However, for women with endometriosis, the symptoms of pelvic pain and cramping will often be more excessive, as pain during menstruation can worsen with increased menstrual flow. When pelvic pain is experienced during the initial implantation stages of endometriosis, before deep infiltrating endometriosis or invasion, the pain is nonspecific and very commonly associated with gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, or diarrhea.
In later stages of deep infiltrating and invading endometriosis, chronic pelvic pain can be accompanied by such severe symptoms as constipation, painful bowel movements, and painful intercourse. In fact, sometimes chronic pelvic pain can become so intense that it is referred to as "killer cramps," which causes severe cramping and heavy bleeding.
Female pelvic pain can be caused by a multitude of reasons, but it is very common for the pain to be caused by the dysfunction of abdominal and pelvic organs due to ovarian endometrioma or deeply infiltrating endometriosis. Deeply infiltrating endometrioma leave scar tissue on abdominal and pelvic organs, as well as the peritoneum. This invading uterine tissue can ultimately play a role in both pelvic pain and organ functionality.
Endometriosis pain is always pelvic in location and usually occurs with menstruation. Retrograde menstruation is the most commonly held theory as to how pelvic pain arises from endometriosis. Every month, a normal uterus sheds its lining (endometrium). The lining is then expelled out of the cervix with minimal backflow of the endometrial cavity contents. However, in some cases, it is believed that the volume of menstrual debris taken back into the uterus is excessive and can lead to endometriomas growing in and scarring either the uterus (adenomyosis) or areas outside of the uterus (endometriosis), as well as in other locations. There are many gynecological conditions that can cause pelvic pain. Nevertheless, it is widely believed that retrograde menstruation can be the main mechanism for said conditions.
Having any of the following disorders, or family history of such, can increase a patient's chances of experiencing pelvic pain:
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): An infection of the female reproductive organs, such as the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. PID often occurs due to complications of sexually transmitted diseases that harm the vagina and spread internally to the uterus and other locations. It is one of the main preventable complications that can cause infertility.
The following are personal risk factors that researchers have found can increase a patient's chances of pelvic pain:
History of physical or sexual abuse
History of radiation or surgical treatment to the abdomen and/or pelvis
History of anxiety, depression, or other psychosomatic symptoms
History of miscarriages
Long duration of menstrual flow
Pelvic pain or cramps, especially during your period
Pain during sex (dyspareunia)
Pain during menstruation (dysmenorrhea)
Painful bowel movements (dyschezia)
Painful urination (dysuria)
Lower back pain
Medical History: The simplest way for a physician to gain an understanding of the severity and probable cause of your pelvic pain is by providing them with your full medical history. This includes describing the type of pain, the frequency of symptoms, and any other past medical or family history.
Pelvic Exam: This thorough exam of the female pelvic organs is the simplest way for a doctor to understand the intensity and point(s) of tenderness when it comes to your pelvic pain. This will be conducted in any comprehensive physical exam if a patient is displaying any gynecological signs or symptoms.
Lab Tests: Your doctor will most likely order labs along with conducting a comprehensive physical exam. These labs can include blood work, urinalysis, and other tests to check for any infection such as PID, gonorrhea, chlamydia, etc., which all may be probable causes of pelvic pain.
Ultrasound/Sonogram: An imaging test that provides a picture of inside the uterus. This is a useful test for pelvic pain caused by endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, and other intrauterine diseases that are impossible to detect via just pelvic exam and lab work.
MRI: This test provides more clear and precise imaging than an ultrasound and is extremely useful in confirming that a patient's pelvic pain is most likely due to diseases such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, etc. However, due to its high cost and the many possible reasons behind pelvic pain, this test is recommended only after you have been advised by a physician following a comprehensive physical exam and lab work.
It is crucial to determine the cause of your pelvic pain, as it will determine your treatment plan.
Drugs: There are a number of medications that can be prescribed to relieve pelvic pain:
Painkillers: These are often prescribed to help reduce pelvic pain, but it is important to note that they will not treat the cause of your pelvic pain, especially in cases of chronic pelvic pain. Painkillers range from analgesics such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin or ibuprofen) to prescribed narcotics (Vicodin or Percocet).
Birth Control: When a patient's pelvic pain occurs during specific times in their menstrual cycle (when different hormone levels are rising and falling), birth control or hormonal medications may be used to attempt to control this process. This has been shown to reduce female pelvic pain in some cases.
Antibiotics: These prescribed medications are only given in cases of pelvic pain caused by an infection in order to treat the PID.
Antidepressants: Studies have shown that antidepressants can reduce pelvic pain, even for patients who do not have depression. However, antidepressants primary treat depression that arises on account of pelvic pain, and do not address the pelvic pain itself.
When a patient wants treatment for pelvic pain caused by endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, etc. (as opposed to an infection), surgery is often the most advised method. Surgeries can vary depending on a patient’s diagnosis:
Laparoscopic deep excision surgery: If performed well, this surgical technique is the most extensive in removing all scar tissue in cases of pelvic pain caused by endometriosis and focal adenomyosis.
Myomectomy: This surgery removes fibroids, which in turn can relieve pelvic pain.
Hysterectomy: This procedure involves a partial or complete removal of the uterus and is only necessary in cases of pelvic pain caused by severe, diffuse adenomyosis. A hysterectomy should always be a last resort, especially in cases of pelvic pain.
Due to the myriad causes of pelvic pain, we believe that doctors must always first have a detailed discussion with their patient about their current symptoms and medical history, followed by a comprehensive pelvic exam and ultrasound. You are also advised to bring recent basic lab results and any imaging results, especially MRI. These will help us to better identify the probable cause of your pelvic pain.
When patients come to us, they are most often in need of surgical treatment. Our preferred method is laparoscopic deep excision surgery. Using this technique, we are able to remove all endometrioma, and we are often able to relieve patients of their chronic pelvic pain. However, pelvic pain can come from a variety of sources. It is important to find a surgeon who can not only operate with attention to detail, but also is patient and willing to discuss your medical history, symptoms, and complaints. By opening up to discussion, we are able to work with our patients in order to find and treat the most probable source of their pain.
Lindsay G. was experiencing severe pelvic pain for years and was told her symptoms were "just her." After a history of ovarian cysts and surgical removal of one of her ovaries, Lindsay came to Dr. Seckin, who performed laparoscopic deep excision surgery on her in the spring of 2016. Read about Lindsay's experience leading up to her surgery with Dr. Seckin.
You can read more stories of patients with pelvic pain, at varying stages, in our testimonial section.
Related: Adhesions surgery, adhesions tissue, surgery pelvic, pain adhesions, pelvic surgeries, surgeries adhesions, adhesions forming, pain surgery, endometriosis removal, laparoscopy
Medically reviewed by Tamer Seckin, MD on October 20, 2019
I’ve seen many obgyns over the years explaining my monthly symptoms during my period...but eventually it became a daily struggle with these pain. It feels like a poke here and there near my right pelvic region. I was given birth control pills for the past ten years but honestly, it didn’t help at all. I was in bed whenever I had my period. I was previously sent to GI doctors for possible appendicitis but it was ruled out from imagings…
Dr.Seckin is so much more than a surgeon. His passion for helping endometriosis sufferers and determination to improve the quality of life in all of his patients is undeniable. I remember when my gynecologist first told me I needed a laparoscopy. Her exact words were "I can do the surgery, but if you were MY daughter- I'd send you to him." From the first day I met him he took the time to explain endometriosis to me since I knew…
I was there for hysterectomy but then I found out that I also had endometriosis.My both surgeries went excellent and I feel great!.I am so thankful to Dr.Seckin and all his team for making my journey smooth!
I am a physician who suffered from deep infiltrative endometriosis. I needed laparoscopic surgery, so I went to see my former gynaecologist and he performed the procedure (a surgery which he supposedly does hundreds of times a year) last November. I had severe pain again when I had my period in January and was advised to go on taking a low hormone dose anticoncipient pill. My symptoms came back quickly and got worse in a few months’ time. I went…
After years of excessively painful periods, a serious loss of quality of life, and a series of uninformed and uninterested doctors, Dr. Seckin and Dr. Goldstein turned my life around. I was told I woke up from my surgery almost a year ago with a smile on my face, and I haven't stopped since. Before I heard of Dr. Seckin, I was experiencing almost daily terrible pain to the point where I had difficulty walking, inability to eat, inexplicable weight…
Dr Seckin and his team gave me back my life! Tomorrow will be 1 month since my surgery and I feel great. Dr. Seckin, Dr Liu, and Dr Goldstein are not only beyond words talented and amazing Doctors, but they are also genuinely wonderful and caring people. I cannot say enough great things about Holly, Asiye and Kim as well. They were all caring, kind, patient, and took the time to listen to me and explain anything I needed to…
Dr. Seckin and his staff spared me from years and years of heavy periods and unbearable endometriosis pain. After having surgery with him (my first) I can now function like a regular human. No more eating NSAIDs like candy and calling out sick from work. Thank you, Dr. Seckin!