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Med Hypotheses. 2007;69(2):282-6. Epub 2007 Feb 9.

Limbic associated pelvic pain: a hypothesis to explain the diagnostic relationships and features of patients with chronic pelvic pain.

Author information

1
Summa Health System, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, MED-2, 525 E Market St., Akron, OH 44303-2090, United States. fentonb@summa-health.org <fentonb@summa-health.org>

Abstract

Limbic associated pelvic pain is a proposed pathophysiology designed to explain features commonly encountered in patients with chronic pelvic pain, including the presence of multiple pain diagnoses, the frequency of previous abuse, the minimal or discordant pathologic changes of the involved organs, the paradoxical effectiveness of many treatments, and the recurrent nature of the condition. These conditions include endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, levator ani syndrome, pelvic floor tension myalgia, vulvar vestibulitis, and vulvodynia. The hypothesis is based on recent improvements in the understanding of pain processing pathways in the central nervous system, and in particular the role of limbic structures, especially the anterior cingulate cortex, hippocampus and amygdala, in chronic and affective pain perception. Limbic associated pelvic pain is hypothesized to occur in patients with chronic pelvic pain out of proportion to any demonstrable pathology (hyperalgesia), and with more than one demonstrable pain generator (allodynia), and who are susceptible to development of the syndrome. This most likely occurs as a result of childhood sexual abuse but may include other painful pelvic events or stressors, which lead to limbic dysfunction. This limbic dysfunction is manifest both as an increased sensitivity to pain afferents from pelvic organs, and as an abnormal efferent innervation of pelvic musculature, both visceral and somatic. The pelvic musculature undergoes tonic contraction as a result of limbic efferent stimulation, which produces the minimal changes found on pathological examination, and generates a further sensation of pain. The pain afferents from these pelvic organs then follow the medial pain pathway back to the sensitized, hypervigilant limbic system. Chronic stimulation of the limbic system by pelvic pain afferents again produces an efferent contraction of the pelvic muscles, thus perpetuating the cycle. This cycle is susceptible to disruption through blocking afferent signals from pelvic organs, either through anesthesia or muscle manipulation. Disruption of limbic perception with psychiatric medication similarly produces relief. Without a full disruption of both the central hypervigilance and pelvic organ dysfunction, pain recurs. To prevent recurrence, clinicians will need to include some form of therapy, either medical or cognitive, targeted at the underlying limbic hypervigilance. Further research into novel, limbic targeted therapies can hopefully be stimulated by explicitly stating the role of the limbic system in chronic pain. This hypothesis provides a framework for clinicians to rationally approach some of the most challenging patients in medicine, and can potentially improve outcomes by including management of limbic dysfunction in their treatment.

PMID:
17292560
DOI:
10.1016/j.mehy.2006.12.025
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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