I have always been prone to vaginal infections; yeast infections, bacterial infections, urinary tract infections, you name it. Maybe this tendency was due to a weak immune system, genetics, or perhaps it was just bad luck. Although I may never know the exact cause of the onset of my pelvic pain, if I had to make an educated guess, I would say it was due to a combination of those three factors, in addition to extraneous stress which I tend to hold in my lower back and pelvic floor.
My symptoms all started a few years ago, at age 20, when I had several of these quite bothersome infections simultaneously and was prescribed a series of different medications by my OB/GYN to treat them. The prescriptions included an antibiotic for the UTI, difluchan (an anti-fungal) to rid the yeast and prevent any additional yeast from developing as a result of the antibiotic, and seven nights of vaginal metrogel for the bacterial vaginosis. After finishing the prescribed doses, my symptoms persisted; vaginal burning, itching, and bladder frequency, every second of every day. In fact, the symptoms were getting worse. I researched everything I could think of that could be related to my symptoms, unable to find anything related to the topic of pelvic pain or pelvic floor dysfunction. As I returned to my gynecologist in complete agony, she re-cultured and re-tested me, finding no result of further infection. The medications did their job, she said, ridding my body of the infections, however, the symptoms remained. This is when my mission to find out what was really going on began.
The Right Doctor, the Right Diagnosis
I spent the next 6 months jumping from gynecologist to gynecologist, trying to find a proper diagnosis. After not even the best, top doctors in New York City were able to help me, I finally found one who could. Funny enough, this was the doctor my grandmother had wanted me to see all along – a gynecologist she had gone to for the past 20 years, who had helped her navigate interstitial cystitis (IC), rectal prolapse, endometriosis, vulvodynia, persistent genital arousal disorder, and more. This experienced doctor, a pioneer on the conditions of IC and vulvodynia, immediately diagnosed me with Pelvic Floor Dysfunction and Vulvodynia. Although the sixth months that it took me, from onset to diagnosis, felt like an eternity, believe it or not, six months is actually a relatively short time to go undiagnosed with pelvic pain. Many people with pelvic pain go years, if not decades before they are properly diagnosed.
This new, insightful doctor told me that the chronic infections I experienced had put my pelvic floor into a spasm. My pelvic floor was so used to being in this hypertonic state of stress that it actually was unable to relax its muscles, mimicking the symptoms of an infection; burning, itching, and bladder frequency. The doctor advised me to start pelvic floor physical therapy (PT) twice a week for the next few months. She also prescribed diazepam (Valium) suppositories to help relax the pelvic floor and a low-level tricyclic SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) to help with the nerve pain (burning and itching) that was a result of the muscle spasm.
Finding an Outlet
To be honest, before I developed chronic pelvic pain, I hardly knew what my pelvic floor was. However, after months of weekly sessions with my PT team talking endlessly about pelvic pain with them (my nature is to ask a lot of questions), in addition to doing a tremendous amount of my own research, I became intrigued and fascinated by the topic and was determined to spread awareness and education on the condition. I wanted people with this chronic disorder to feel that they were not alone, to understand that they can and will get better, and to be able to have a safe space to talk about this topic.
While experiencing some of the worst of my pelvic pain, I searched the iTunes app for a podcast on pelvic pain, eager to understand more about this disorder. Nothing turned up. I immediately had the idea that I was going to create a podcast of my own. I have always been incredibly open, honest, and inquisitive, and I wanted to use these skills to talk about this controversial, often ignored and undiagnosed problem that affects one in three women, globally. In addition, I have always been extremely interested in health and wellness and recently received a certification as a Holistic Health and Wellness Coach, so I felt I was ready to start a platform to raise awareness about pelvic pain. I wanted the podcast to be conversational, raw, and authentic. I wanted people to share their personal stories about pelvic pain, and I wanted medical professionals and experts to discuss their experiences and successes in treating patients with this difficult condition.
Leading with My Voice
At this point, it was April 2018, I was 22 years old, and I had been navigating the challenges of healing pelvic pain for about two years. I didn’t want to wait to start the podcast. I knew I had an idea that could change the lives of many and I wanted to execute on it immediately. Within a week, my podcast equipment was ordered, my tech-savvy brother (and YouTube) helped me set it up and learn how to use it, interviews were lined up, and The Women’s Pelvic Pain Podcast came to life. After only a few months, the podcast has become the #1 source for uncensored information on Women’s Pelvic Pain. Check it out here.
Since then, I have learned that Pelvic Floor Dysfunction causes discomfort and or pain in the lowest part of the abdomen and pelvis. In women, pelvic pain might refer to symptoms arising from the reproductive, urinary or digestive systems, or from musculoskeletal sources. Although the pelvic pain symptoms that I had were vaginal burning and itching, and urinary frequency, these symptoms might not be present in everyone. Other symptoms may include pain during or after intercourse, pain during ovulation, painful bowel movements, lower back pain, painful and frequent urination, and more. One of the greatest struggles in regard to pelvic pain, is that many women (and men) may be ashamed or embarrassed to talk about the condition. Because of this, many people live with pelvic pain in silence, suffering for years until they finally have no other choice but to seek help.
Amplify Your Story
If you suffer from any form of chronic vaginal, rectal, or bladder pain, burning, itching, pressure, or discomfort in general, my greatest recommendation would be to see an OB/GYN who is a pelvic pain specialist. Traditional OB/GYNS may have little understanding of chronic pelvic pain and, therefore, may not be able to diagnose or treat you properly. Another piece of advice I feel strongly about is to talk about the issues you are facing with close family and friends. I promise that the more you talk about it, the more you will discover how many other people you know are suffering from similar conditions and the faster you will be able to find the right professionals to help heal you. Do not be afraid to speak up about your pain. Do not be embarrassed, do not let someone tell you that you are crazy, and please do not think that you will be crippled with this forever. Being an advocate for your health is the most important responsibility you have.
Although my struggle with pelvic pain has been challenging and is still not completely resolved, I have found many ways to manage my symptoms. For instance: pelvic floor physical therapy, acupuncture, meditation, diet and exercise, herbs and supplements, and infrared saunas in combination with traditional medicine. I am constantly seeking additional ways to help combat the few but remaining symptoms I have, mainly bladder urgency and frequency, with hope and optimism that I will soon be able to eliminate them forever. Overall, I feel privileged to have been able to turn darkness into light, making a career out of my toughest moments. By creating a forum where patients, holistic healers, and physicians can share valuable information with women on the various ways to assess and treat pelvic floor dysfunction, I feel that I am helping women just like me to make simple, affordable, and sustainable lifestyle changes to help resolve their chronic pain.
Hannah’s The Women’s Pelvic Pain podcast can be listened to on iTunes and Soundcloud.
Originally published at www.practicalpainmanagement.com