THE WOODLANDS, TEXAS (January 17, 2008)

An estimated one-third of all women will experience some form of pelvic pain in their lives. Although it is one of the most common causes of pain in women, it also is one of the most difficult to diagnose and manage. As many as three out of five women who experience pelvic pain never locate the cause of their affliction.

"Typically, women who experience pelvic pain seek help from gynecologists, urologists or family practitioners who may not be able to pinpoint the cause," said Faraz Khan, MD, interventional radiologist, Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center - Imaging Center.

"Adding to this difficulty is that many women are often embarrassed about pain in the pelvic area - below their bellybutton and between their hips - and wait until the pain is unbearable before seeking help," Dr. Khan added. "When the pain persists more than six months, it is defined as chronic pelvic pain and should be diagnosed and treated immediately."

As many as one out of five women experience chronic pelvic pain. Chronic pelvic pain differs from acute pain, which may indicate a specific injury. With chronic pelvic pain, the initial injury or problem may have disappeared but the pain continues because of changes in the nervous system, tissues or muscles.

Some of the signs and symptoms of chronic pelvic pain include:

  • Severe and steady pain
  • Pain that comes and goes (intermittent)
  • Dull aching
  • Sharp pains or cramping
  • Pressure or heaviness deep within the pelvis
  • Limited physical activity

"Although there are many tests that can be performed to determine the cause of a patient's pain, including pelvic exam, cultures, pelvic ultrasound or laparoscopy, an MRI of the female pelvis is one of the most accurate methods to pinpoint the cause of the pain," added Dr. Khan.

For many women, an MRI is more comfortable than many of the alternatives. Additionally, an MRI creates a three-dimensional image of the pelvic anatomy that enables a physician to accurately see pelvic abnormalities. Using this vital information, the physician can uncover the exact source of the problem and quickly initiate the appropriate treatment regimen.

Some of the causes of chronic pelvic pain include:

  • Endometriosis, a condition in which tissue from a woman's uterine lining (endometrium) grows outside her uterus
  • Adenomyosis, a condition in which tissue from a woman's uterine lining (endometrium) grows inside her uterus and into the muscle
  • Chronic Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, an affliction that is a result of a long-term infection, often sexually transmitted, which causes a woman's fallopian tubes to scar and adhere to her ovaries
  • Pelvic Congestion Syndrome, in which enlarged, varicose-type veins around the ovaries cause blood to pool
  • Ovarian Remnant, which occurs after a complete hysterectomy when a small piece of ovary is left inside that can later develop tiny, painful cysts
  • Fibroids, non-cancerous uterine growths, which may cause pressure or a feeling of heaviness in a woman's lower abdomen
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome, uncomfortable pelvic pain and pressure caused by bloating, constipation or diarrhea
  • Interstitial Cystitis or chronic inflammation of the bladder resulting in a more frequent need to urinate
  • Tension in a woman's pelvic floor muscles can cause muscle spasms and chronic pelvic pain

A woman who experiences chronic pelvic pain that has gone undiagnosed should consider a pelvic MRI. A physician's order is required to schedule an MRI at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center - Imaging Center.

For a physician referral, contact the Memorial Hermann Physician Referral line at (281) 364-5959.