Pelvic Pain: A big issue for women nearing mid-life

New Zealand study reveals extent of the problem

Many women nearing mid-life suffer some form of pelvic pain, such as period pain or pain during sex. These are the latest findings from a long-running health and development study conducted by the University of Otago in New Zealand.Lead author of the new report, Dr Antoinette Righarts, says that half of the 429 women aged 38 at the time of participating in the survey, reported having some form of pelvic pain in the previous 12 months. “The findings confirm a high prevalence of pelvic pain in women and, in particular, period pain was still very common among 38-year-olds at 46 per cent,” Dr Righarts explains.

The study did find that pregnancy and childbirth appeared to offer women some protection from pain occurring during sex and other pelvic pain, but that it offered no long-term benefit for preventing period pain. Noting that the researchers were not able to identify any long-term negative consequences of pregnancy and childbirth for the subsequent development of pelvic pain, the senior author and clinical lead of the study, Professor Gillett, said the study findings provide reassurance to women who have had, or are considering having children.

When it came to period pain (dysmenorrhoea) and pain during sex, the researchers did find a clear link with endometriosis – a condition in which the layer of tissue that normally covers the inside of the uterus grows on the outside.

However, period pains experienced by young women with the start of their periods (known as primary dysmenorrhea) was unrelated to endometriosis. Equally, such primary dysmenorrhoea did not adversely affect a woman’s subsequent fertility, Professor Gillett said. “Current clinical practices for young women with dysmenorrhoea are to encourage an early diagnosis of endometriosis however, it seems there is no evidence that this is beneficial.”

Dr Righarts noted that the study findings are significant because the research was carried out as a part of a longitudinal study following the lives of 1037 babies born between 1 April 1972 and 31 March 1973 at Queen Mary Maternity Hospital in Dunedin. This means that the participants did not join the study because they already had a particular interest in pelvic pain; so it is relatively free from the selection and participating biases that can affect many health surveys.

Dr Righarts concluded by saying that, whilst the study confirms that pelvic pain is common amongst women approaching mid-life, it is a complex condition which requires further study in order to further elucidate its causes.

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About the authors and source material:

The source material for this article was provided to us by the University of Otago media office. This research was published in the April issue of BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The lead author was Dr Antoinette Righarts and Professor Wayne Gillett was Senior author; both of the University of Otago. The study was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.