Chronic Pelvic Pain is a non-specific medical condition describing pain in the pelvic region lasting six months or longer. Many patients diagnosed with chronic pelvic pain don’t know what is causing their pain. In some patients, this condition is usually indicative of a different disease process. Many other patients report pain, which appears to be unrelated to known disease processes in the pelvic region.
Symptoms of chronic pelvic pain include: severe and steady pain, intermittent pain, sharp acute pain, cramping, pressure or heaviness deep within the pelvis, pain with bowel movements, pain with urination, pain during intercourse, and pain associated with prolonged sitting or standing.
A new study from University of Pennsylvania (Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology) could explain why patients with chronic pelvic pain report symptoms involving multiple organs. For example, many patients diagnosed with this condition often report bladder pain and bowel pain. In many instances, while physicians may be able to diagnose a specific disease process in one of the organs, they cannot explain the pain associated with the other organ.
According to this new study, the nerves that surround (innervate) an organ don’t just communicate with the brain, they also communicate with the nerves that innervate adjacent organ structures. As such, when a disease process of a particular pelvic organ causes its nerves to send signals to the brain, the same communication is transmitted to the nerves of the adjacent organs, causing them to also react by sending signals to the brain. This communication between the nerves of adjacent organs is referred to as cross-sensitization. When this occurs, the brain is simply not able to distinguish which of the two organs is actually subject to a disease process. Consequently, the brain sends pain signals to both organs, causing the patient to perceive pain with respect to both organs.
As a result, the patient may be experiencing pain associated with a perfectly healthy organ. If you have been diagnosed with chronic pelvic pain and are frustrated because your physician cannot provide you an explanation or diagnosis, you pain could be the result of the cross-sensitization process described above. However, this should never be a forgone conclusion. Make sure that you are properly assessed by a physician.