What is pelvic congestion syndrome?
Pelvic congestion syndrome is a condition that causes chronic pelvic pain. It is thought to be caused by problems with the veins in the pelvic area. This is the lower part of your belly (abdomen).
Veins are the blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart. In some women, veins in the lower abdomen may stop working well. Blood may start to build up inside the veins. When this happens, the veins in your pelvis can enlarge and change shape, like varicose veins. This may lead to the pain and other symptoms of pelvic congestion syndrome.
It happens mostly in women of childbearing age. It may be more common in women who have given birth to more than one child.
What causes pelvic congestion syndrome?
Healthcare providers are trying to understand the possible causes of pelvic congestion syndrome. Enlarged veins in the pelvis seem to play a major role. But many women have enlarged veins and no symptoms. Pregnancy may increase the risk for pelvic congestion syndrome. This is because veins enlarge during pregnancy to support the increased blood flow. This can permanently enlarge the veins and lead to symptoms.
Hormones may also play a role in pelvic congestion syndrome. Estrogen makes veins wider (dilates). This may be why the condition is not common after menopause. Estrogen levels are lower after menopause. Other hormones may also cause veins to grow wider and cause symptoms.
Who is at risk for pelvic congestion syndrome?
You may have a higher risk for pelvic congestion syndrome if you have given birth to more than one child. You may also have a higher risk if other members of your family have it.
What are the symptoms of pelvic congestion syndrome?
The main symptom of pelvic congestion syndrome is pelvic pain that lasts at least 6 months. This pain often first starts during or after a pregnancy. It may worsen after a later pregnancy. The pain may be a heavy or aching feeling. Or the pain may be sharp. Usually the pain is only on one side, usually the left side. At times you may feel it on both sides. The pain is often worse at the end of the day.
Certain factors may make the pain worse, such as:
- Changing your posture
- Having sex (both during and after)
- Standing for a long time
Some women also have symptoms such as:
- Pain before or during their periods
- Feeling a sudden need to urinate
- Enlarged and distorted veins on the buttocks, external genitals (vulva), or thighs
How is pelvic congestion syndrome diagnosed?
Pelvic congestion syndrome is not easy to diagnose. Pelvic pain is common and there are many different causes. Pelvic pain can result from problems with the reproductive system, like your ovaries and uterus. It can be caused by the urinary system, like your bladder. It can be caused by the gastrointestinal system, such as your large intestine. And it can be caused by muscles or bones. Mental health conditions, such as depression, are also linked to chronic pelvic pain. Your healthcare provider will need to consider many possible causes before diagnosing the condition.
Your healthcare provider or an OB/GYN doctor may diagnose the condition. He or she will ask about your medical history and your symptoms. You will also have a physical exam. This will likely include a pelvic exam.
You may also need some tests, such as:
- Urine tests to check for problems with your urinary system
- Blood tests to check for pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), anemia, and other conditions
- Pelvic ultrasound to look for growths in the pelvis
- Doppler ultrasound to check the blood flow in the pelvic blood vessels
- CT scan or MRI for more detailed pictures
- Diagnostic laparoscopy to rule out other causes of pelvic pain
- A procedure to take X-rays of the pelvic veins (venography)
How is pelvic congestion syndrome treated?
Your healthcare provider can tailor your treatment according to your symptoms. Possible treatment options include:
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormone drugs, which block ovarian function and may relieve pain
- Progestin hormone drugs, which may relieve pain
- Procedures to shut off damaged veins (sclerotherapy, embolization)
- Surgery to remove damaged veins
- Surgery to remove your uterus and ovaries
Your healthcare provider may suggest starting medicines. If these don't relieve your symptoms, your healthcare provider may advise a procedure to treat the condition. Your symptoms may ease up as you enter menopause.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
If your symptoms get worse, plan to see your healthcare provider soon. Pelvic congestion syndrome itself doesn't usually lead to a medical emergency. If you have a sharp, sudden pain that doesn’t go away, see your healthcare provider right away.
Key points about pelvic congestion syndrome
Pelvic congestion syndrome is a medical condition that causes chronic pelvic pain. The condition is thought to be due to problems with the enlarged veins in your pelvic area.
- Women of childbearing age who have had more than one pregnancy may have the highest risk of pelvic congestion syndrome.
- Pelvic pain is the main symptom. This may worsen after standing, walking, or having sex. It may start during or after pregnancy.
- You may need several tests to rule out other causes of pelvic pain.
- Hormone treatments may help symptoms.
- Procedures that block the damaged veins (embolization) or surgery to remove the ovary and tube or the uterus may be options
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