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Glossary

The following glossary is provided to help you understand a few subjects related to sexual health.

Abdominal Myofascial Pain Syndrome (AMPS)

A condition during which a trigger point (detailed below) becomes the source of pain and/or abnormal muscle function. The pain starts in the muscles and tendons, and can lead to otherwise unexplained abdominal pain, burning, or aching.

Adenomyosis

A condition similar to endometriosis, except the endometrial tissue can be found within the muscular wall of the uterus. It is often associated with painful menstruation or pelvic pain.

Anti-inflammatory Medicines

Substances which help reduce pain by lowering inflammation. Subtypes include steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and immune selective anti-inflammatory derivatives (ImSAIDs).  NSAID’s include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), aspirin, naproxen, etc. These can be used to reduce chronic pelvic pain, especially pain brought on by inflammation or menstruation.

Botulinum Toxin

Known as Botox this is a protein and neurotoxin that may be used for therapeutic purposes. It can be used in treatment of muscle pain/muscle spasm disorders, sweating, chronic migraines, etc. Botulinum Toxin Type B (BTX-B) was FDA approved for the treatment of cervical dystonia in December 2000.

Biofeedback

This is a treatment conducted mainly by physical therapists to help patients learn how to strengthen and relax their pelvic floor muscles in order to improve bladder function and decrease pelvic pain. Biofeedback uses electronic and mechanical instruments to accurately measure the action of the pelvic floor muscles and provide “feedback” information to the patient.

Cervical Stenosis

This is an abnormal narrowing of the opening in the cervix. A woman may be born with this abnormality or it can be caused by surgical procedures performed on the cervix, trauma to the cervix, repeated vaginal infections, cervical cancer, or radiation associated with treatment or atrophy of the cervix. It may also be associated with painful periods.

Chronic Pelvic Pain

Pain in the pelvis, anterior abdominal wall, lower back and/or buttocks that lasts longer than six months. Clinically significant chronic pelvic pain affects the quality of life, the ability to function well physically, and the ability to sleep. Learn more about chronic pelvic pain.

Diabetic Neuropathy

A condition that describes the damage to the nerves in the body as a result of reduced blood flow and high blood sugar levels from diabetes. The nerve problems and pain can occur in every organ system, including the digestive system, heart and sex organs. It can cause urinary incontinence and orgasm or arousal disorders.

Diverticulitis

This is a common condition affecting the digestive system. It is typically found in the large intestine as pouches, or diverticula, that form outside of the colon and become inflamed.

Dysmenorrhea

A medical term for painful periods, it is the leading cause of lost time from work or school for women in their 20s. Women will complain of pain with periods, especially within the first few days. Symptoms can include nausea, diarrhea, low back pain, low abdominal pain, and pain within or near the hips or inner thighs.

Endometriosis

This is a medical condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterine cavity on other organs inside the body. It is found most commonly on tissues overlying the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, and other pelvic organs. Endometrial tissue responds to hormones just as it does in the lining of the uterus: it grows, thickens, and then breaks down- shedding and bleeding at the end of each month-long cycle. This condition may be associated with pelvic pain or infertility.

Female sexual dysfunction

This refers to any condition that affects intimate relationships enough to have a negative impact on a woman’s quality of life. Often the prevalence of female sexual dysfunction underestimated. It has been reported to be as high as 40 percent in the United States.

Learn more about female sexual dysfunction.

Fibromyalgia

A medical disorder associated with chronic pain and a heightened and often painful reaction to pressure.  The long-term, body-wide pain results in tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues of the body. Fibromyalgia is estimated to affect 2-4% of the population, with a female-to-male incidence ratio of approximately 9:1. Symptoms include fatigue, sleep disturbance, stiffness in the joints, trouble swallowing, bowel and bladder abnormalities, numbness and tingling. *symptoms not restricted to pain lead to the term fibromyalgia syndrome.

Hemorrhoids

A painful varicose vein in the lower portion of the rectum or the anus, resulting from increased pressure in the veins of the anus causing the vein to swell and become painful.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD is a direct result of a collection of inflammatory conditions which impact the colon and small intestine. Two of the most common types of IBD are Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

Interstitial cystitis

Also known as Bladder Pain Syndrome, this is a chronic and typically debilitating condition of the bladder of which cause is unknown. Symptoms include bladder pain, pain when urinating and urinary frequency as often as every 10 minutes, urgency and/or pressure in the bladder/pelvis area. The condition is often misdiagnosed as overactive bladder, urethritis, urethral syndrome, or other conditions associated with urgency or frequency issues.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

This is a disorder, sometimes lifelong, in which the natural contractions and relaxation of the intestinal tract are stronger. It can lead to abdominal pain/cramping, changes in bowel movements, and other symptoms.  Statistics indicate 1 in 6 people in the United States have IBS. It is twice as common in women. It can mimic the pain of endometriosis.

Multiple Sclerosis

A disease which impacts small areas of the brain and spinal cord, resulting in neuro- and muscular difficulties. It is thought to be associated with higher incidences of chronic pelvic pain.

Myofascial Pelvic Pain Syndrome   

This refers to pain in the muscles of the pelvic floor that is attributed to Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. It may be caused by direct injury or primary dysfunction of a muscle- in which muscles do not act in a coordinated manner.

Learn more about myofascial pelvic pain syndrome.

Myofascial Trigger Points

Are abnormally tight bands of muscle fibers that cause pain. It usually involves a small portion of muscle and may be active, causing pain spontaneously, or latent.

Neuropathic pain

Refers to pain resulting from damage or disease affecting the somatosensory (sensations received in the skin and deep tissues) system.  It may be associated with abnormal sensations (dysesthesia) or pain produced by normally non-painful stimuli. It can often be described as burning pain, coldness, “pins and needles”, numbness, or itching.

Neuromodulation

This is a relatively new concept, conceptualized as a neurotransmitter, which is not reabsorbed by the pre-synaptic neuron or broken down. Such neuromodulators spend a significant amount of time in the cerebrospinal fluid, influencing the overall activity levels of the brain. Although not FDA-approved, there is evidence that sacral neuromodulation is a well-established therapy for patients with lower urinary tract dysfunction. It also has been suggested to be useful in the treatment of chronic pelvic pain; larger prospective trials are necessary to determine the long-term effects.

Oral Contraceptives, GnRH analogs, GnRH antagonists

These are often used to suppress ovarian function and help control hormonally-responsive pain, painful periods, or pain associated with endometriosis. They may be recommended especially in the case of chronic pelvic pain that increases around the time of menstruation. They can be used to stop menstruation and ovulation temporarily.

Pelvic Congestion Syndrome

A medical condition caused by varicose veins in the lower abdomen. It can be the result of a pregnancy or other unknown factors. The pain often worsens with long periods of standing. Woman with this condition often suffer from chronic pelvic pain.

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD)  

This refers to any disorder involving the muscles and organs of the pelvic floor, It is often associated with other conditions that combine to cause chronic pelvic pain, It can occur when muscles of the pelvic floor are either overactive or under-active. Learn more about Pelvic Floor Dysfunction.

Piriformis Syndrome

A neuromuscular disorder which occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or irritated, resulting in pain, tingling, and numbness in the buttocks area. See diagram.

Prolapse

Medically, this is a condition where organs, such as the uterus, fall down or out of place. When the uterus is involved, the prolapse condition results in an inferior extension of the organ into the vagina because of weakened muscles or ligaments. Minor prolapse can be treated with exercises and physical therapy to the muscles of the pelvic floor. If a woman suffers serious prolapse it can require surgical attention; sometimes less invasive options are appropriate.

Provoked Vestibulodynia/ Vulvar Vestibulitis Syndrome

A localized, provoked pain specific to an area of the vulva between the labia minora at the vaginal opening. The pain may have always been present, noted by a woman the first time she tried to use a tampon or attempt intercourse, or it may develop over time. It is associated with severe pain when the vaginal orifice is penetrated; individual will complain of tenderness and pressure in the vulva area. Symptoms include severe pain with pressure or vaginal entry, burning, stinging, irritation, or raw sensations. Affected persons may also feel the urge to urinate frequently or suddenly. See diagram.

Psychotherapy

A form of treatment which can aid patients with chronic pelvic pain.  It involves an evaluation by a psychotherapist or psychologist to help discuss the effects of chronic pelvic pain on relationships and families, how various treatments have affected the patient, and the way the pain has changed the patient’s quality of life.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

An infection of the pelvic organs, usually involving the uterus, tubes and ovaries. It occurs when bacteria travel up through the cervix into the uterus and infect the internal female reproductive organs. It can lead to serious infections, abscesses or infertility if left untreated.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) units and Nerve Stimulators

A therapeutic technique using a non-invasive electric current to stimulate nerves to improve some of the conditions associated with chronic pelvic pain, namely interstitial cystitis. The effectiveness of this therapy on other types of pain is being evaluated with further research.

Trigger Point Injections

A type of treatment effective for myofascial abdominal wall and pelvic floor tenderness and pain. It is usually done in the office with a combination of numbing medications and/or steroids.

Tertiary Syphilis

The last of three phases of the sexually transmitted disease syphilis; can follow the initial infection by 3-15 years. The infection-causing organisms have continued to grow for years creating pockets of damage (lesions), which affect various tissues destructively.

Uterine Prolapse

This occurs when the ligaments and muscles near the uterus are no longer strong enough to hold the uterus in place and it can’t remain in its normal position. The uterus can fall/slide into the vaginal area. This condition can be a result of trauma during childbirth or after giving birth to multiples, or from obesity or chronic cough which may put stress on the pelvic muscles. It can result in painful intercourse, frequent urination, or abnormal vaginal bleeding.

Vulvodynia

A disorder associated with vulvar pain, burning, and discomfort that interfere with the quality of a woman’s life. Its cause is sometimes attributed to trauma; in other cases the cause may be unknown. There are no discernible physical lesions other than a possible redness of the vestibule.

Viscero-muscular reflex

Reflex in which stimulation of an organ (such as pressure from gas in the bowel) can cause muscles (muscles in the lower abdomen or legs) to contract.

Wind-up Syndrome

A phenomenon that can explain why untreated pain can become worsens over time. Nerve fibers, which transmit impulses to the brain, can become more effective at sending pain signals to the brain. Just as muscles become stronger for sports with repeated training, so can the intensity of the signals from nerve fibers. The brain can also become more sensitive to the pain signals causing the pain to feel worse although the injury or illness is unchanged.