When it comes to seeking treatment for certain medical conditions, I know some symptoms can be easier to discuss with a health care provider than others. As a urologist who diagnoses and treats some of the most sensitive parts of the human anatomy, I completely understand. But I can also say, without question, that earlier intervention of pain symptoms, including those in the pelvis, offers the best chance for successful treatment. Not only is earlier better, it can be lifesaving.
While there is a wide range of potential causes for pelvic pain, experts still don’t yet understand all of the reasons why it occurs. In the most common cases, pain that is experienced in the pelvic region is usually caused by an issue with the reproductive organs, urinary tract, gastrointestinal tract or abdominal muscles.
While some causes of pelvic pain may resolve on their own (these are acute episodes) others can cause chronic or long-lasting pain. I think it’s important to discuss what we mean by chronic pelvic pain. In some cases, women may delay seeking treatment because they think: “It doesn’t hurt constantly, only when I…” Whether you’re able to finish that sentence with sexual intercourse, running, urinating or during a bowel movement – even if the pain is dull and doesn’t seemingly prevent you from living a “normal life,” it really does need to be evaluated by a urologist.
From easily treatable causes like a typical urinary tract infection to serious, life-threatening conditions like cancer, if you’re experiencing consistent pain associated with your pelvis, it’s a warning sign. That’s right. Pain by itself is not a clinical diagnosis. Sometimes a helpful way to think about pain is as a “check engine” light like the one in your car. When it lights up, the check engine light is your vehicle’s way of telling you that something is wrong and needs attention. Most of us wouldn’t just blatantly ignore that light. We don’t ignore it because we know that if we do, it will likely result in an issue later on that might leave us stranded on the side of the road. It’s important to treat pelvic pain, or any type of chronic pain, really, as we do our car’s “check engine” light.
As with most aspects of our health, the earlier we get to the bottom of issues, the better. Not just for the quality of life we want to live, but for the options available when problems are discovered in their earliest stages. There are dozens of conditions that can cause pelvic pain. But no matter the cause, discovery and diagnosis are the best first steps in getting to the bottom of and fixing them.
If someone you care about is rationalizing their pelvic pain with statements like, “It only hurts a little when I…” encourage them to seek treatment from their doctor as soon as possible. Not only can it be potentially life-saving, it’s important for overall well-being. And a pain-free life is something every single one of us deserves.