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What causes pelvic pain?

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Researchers do not know the exact causes of pelvic pain. Often, pelvic pain signals that there may be a problem with one of the organs in the pelvic area. This organ could be a reproductive organ, such as the uterus (also called the womb), or other organs like the intestine or the bladder. Pain also can be a symptom of an infection.

The extent of a woman's pelvic pain is not always the same as the extent of the related condition. For example, if a woman has a physical abnormality that is associated with the pain, the size of the abnormality may be small, but she may still experience a lot of pain.

The following health problems can cause or contribute to pelvic pain:

  • Adhesions.1,2 Adhesions are bands of tissue that form between internal tissues and organs and keep them from shifting easily as the body moves.3 They can form as a result of surgery or infections, such as pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Endometriosis.1,2 This condition (pronounced en-doh-mee-tree-OH-sis) occurs when tissues that normally grow inside the uterus grow somewhere else in the pelvis, such as on the outside of the uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes. The two most common symptoms of endometriosis are pain and infertility.
  • Interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome.1,2 This syndrome (pronounced IN-tur-STISH-uhl siss-TY-tiss) causes bladder pain and a need to urinate often and right away. This pain may be a burning or sharp pain in the bladder or at the opening where urine leaves the body.4
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.1,2 This syndrome is a digestive problem that can cause pain, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Researchers have yet to find a specific cause for irritable bowel syndrome but stress or certain foods can trigger symptoms in some people.5
  • Pelvic floor disorders.1,2 These disorders occur when the muscles and connective tissues that hold all the pelvic organs in place weaken or are injured. Sometimes the condition is caused by spasms or an increase in pelvic floor muscles tone. Pelvic floor disorders can cause discomfort and pain as well as functional problems, such as trouble with bladder control.
  • Uterine fibroids.1,2 Uterine fibroids (pronounced YOO-ter-in FAHY-broidz) are noncancerous tumors made of muscle cells and other tissues that grow within and around the wall of the uterus. Symptoms can include heavy or painful periods, pain during sex, and lower back pain.
  • Vulvodynia.2 This condition (pronounced vuhl-voh-DIN-ee-uh) involves pain or discomfort of the vulva (the parts of the female sex organs that are on the outside of the body). This condition can cause burning, stinging, itching, or rawness of the vulva.

A woman may have more than one cause of pelvic pain at the same time. In some cases, a person with one chronic pain condition has an increased risk for other types of chronic pain. Sometimes, a woman's health care provider may not be able to find the cause of the pelvic pain.1


  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2004). ACOG practice bulletin no. 51. Chronic pelvic pain. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 103, 589–605. P [top]
  2. UCSF Medical Center. (2012). Pelvic pain. Retrieved April 19, 2012, from http://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/pelvic_pain External Web Site Policy [top]
  3. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2012). Abdominal adhesions. Retrieved April 19, 2012, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/intestinaladhesions [top]
  4. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2011). What I need to know about interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome. Retrieved April 19, 2012, from http://www.kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/interstitialcystitis_ez [top]
  5. National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse. (2012). Irritable bowel syndrome. Retrieved April 19, 2012, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs [top]

Last Updated Date: 04/11/2014
Last Reviewed Date: 04/12/2013
Vision National Institutes of Health Home BOND National Institues of Health Home Home Storz Lab: Section on Environmental Gene Regulation Home Machner Lab: Unit on Microbial Pathogenesis Home Division of Intramural Population Health Research Home Bonifacino Lab: Section on Intracellular Protein Trafficking Home Lilly Lab: Section on Gamete Development Home Lippincott-Schwartz Lab: Section on Organelle Biology