When talking about endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain, it is important to remember that often endometriosis is not the only pelvic pain generator. Another possible contributor to chronic pelvic pain is pelvic congestion syndrome (PCS). PCS is like having varicose veins in the pelvis. Blood pulls in the veins and can cause symptoms such as heaviness, pain with penetration, noncyclical pain, positional lower back pain, pelvic and upper thigh pain, prolonged postcoital discomfort, symptoms that worsen throughout the day and are exacerbated by activity or prolonged standing, and non-specific lower abdominal and pelvic pain (Durham & Machan, 2013; Mistry & le Roux, 2017). LIANG and Brown (2021) report that:
“Typical pelvic congestion syndrome pain is:
– Heaviness and dull aching in nature
– Located deep in the pelvis and on the left
– Exacerbated by upright position (standing or sitting) and exercise (walking, running, weightlifting)
– Worse towards the end of the day
– Worse after sexual intercourse
– Worse when bladder is full
– Chronic and insidious onset
Atypical pelvic congestion syndrome pain is:
– Constant pain not related to time of day, upright posture or physical activities
– Pain worse premenstrually and during menstrual periods
– More on the right than the left
– Acute and sudden onset
– Sharp or colicky in nature”
While the gold standard for diagnosis is contrast venogram, this procedure is usually done as part of the treatment (embolization procedure) (LIANG & Brown, 2021). LIANG and Brown (2021) report that “all non-invasive imaging like ultrasound, CT and MRI can detect pelvic varicosities” but that the key is “to alert the imaging technicians and specialist to look out for pelvic varicosities and to report them” (LIANG & Brown, 2021). A CT scan can also help diagnose other syndromes such as Nutcracker Syndrome (left renal vein compression) and May-Thurner Syndrome (left iliac vein compression) (LIANG & Brown, 2021). If you’ve had surgeries before for endometriosis and wonder why it wasn’t seen during surgery, it is because surgery “is performed with the patient in supine or Trendelenburg position, and with the use of CO2 for abdominal distention” thus meaning that the “veins are often collapsed, and pelvic varicosities can be missed”- it would take the surgeon who suspects pelvic varicosities to put the patient in “reverse Trendelenburg position and easing off CO2 distention” that “might allow the dilated veins to fill” and possibly be seen (LIANG & Brown, 2021).
Unfortunately, PCS doesn’t just go away or improve with time, therefore, treatment is usually needed for those who are symptomatic (LIANG & Brown, 2021). Because there is pooling and back flow of blood in the veins, the treatment suggested is transcatheter embolization (LIANG & Brown, 2021). Medication, hysterectomy, and other treatments have not proved as effective (LIANG & Brown, 2021). The transcatheter embolization “is performed with conscious sedation under local anaesthetic, as a day procedure” and “is one of the safest embolisation procedures” (LIANG & Brown, 2021). LIANG and Brown (2021) report that “some feel the relief of pelvic congestion syndrome symptoms soon after embolisation, while others might have to wait for the thrombophlebitis to settle before appreciating the result”- reporting that it is best to wait 4-6 weeks to better judge the effectiveness. Mistry & le Roux (2017) report that after looking at 20 studies that “the overall technical success rate was as high as 99%” and that “with a mean follow up of 15 months, 80% of the patients reported benefit from the procedure while 13% experienced little or no relief of the symptoms”.
PCS may be another piece in the puzzle of ongoing chronic pelvic pain.
Durham, J. D., & Machan, L. (2013, December). Pelvic congestion syndrome. In Seminars in interventional radiology (Vol. 30, No. 04, pp. 372-380). Thieme Medical Publishers. Retrieved from https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-0033-1359731
LIANG, D. E., & Brown, B. (2021). Pelvic congestion syndrome: Are we missing the diagnosis?. The Medical Republic. Retrieved from https://www.sydneyfibroidclinic.com.au/app/uploads/2021/06/PCS-Medical-Republic.pdf
Mistry, P. P., & le Roux, D. A. (2017). Pelvic congestion syndrome (PCS). Practice Perspectives for Venous Disorders, 46. Retrieved from http://www.vascularsociety.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/VASSA-venous-guidelines-Practice-perspectives-for-venous-disorders-2017.pdf#page=46