The pelvic congestion syndrome – an overview

This One-Pager provides an overview on the pelvic congestion syndrome. It reviews pathophysiology, clinical features, diagnosis and treatment options for pelvic congestions syndrome. This content is published in English, German, French and Italian.

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Pathophysiology

Externally non-visible dilated, tortuous & congested veins develop within the pelvis

Valvular insufficiency

  • Congenital absence of ovarian vein valves (13-15%)
  • Valvular incompetence/dysfunction (35-40%) e.g. due to a 50-60% increase in pelvic vein capacity during pregnancy

Vein obstruction

Extrinsic compression on draining veins e.g. "Nutcracker-Syndrome" and "May-Thurner-Syndrome"

Pregnancy and hormonal changes

  • Mechanical compression of uterus
  • Estrogen acts as venous dilator
  • Progesterone weakens venous valves
  • "Free" veins not surrounded by fascia

Pelvic congestion syndrome is most frequent in multiparous women of reproductive age.

Risk Factors

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Anatomy
  • Pregnancy
  • Pelvic surgery
  • Estrogen therapy
  • Obesity
  • Phlebitis
  • Prolonged standing
  • Heavy lifting

Clinical presentation & symptoms

PCS causes chronic pelvic pain and a variety of other symptoms.

Lower abdominal & pelvic pain

  • Intermittent or constant
  • Described as dull ache or fullness
  • Persists for more than 6 months
  • Often aggravated by prolonged sitting, standing & walking, coitus, menstruation and pregnancy
  • Symptoms often disappear in supine position

Associated symptoms

Varicose veins of vulva, perineum, buttocks and lower extremities

Associated non-specific symptoms

Headache, bloating, nausea, vulvar swelling, vaginal discharge, backache, leg fullness, rectal discomfort, urinary urgency, irritable bowels, lethargy, anxiety and depression

Diagnostic workup

Different methods can be applied to establish the diagnosis of PCS. However, it is important to exclude other potential causes of CPP such as endometriosis, fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease.

Ultrasound: Widely available non-invasive imaging modality to visualize the pelvic venous plexus and examination of blood flow in an upright or standing position to avoid decompression of the veins.

Venography: Catheter-directed diagnostic gold standard for PCS visualizing veins and identifi cation of incompetence, congestions and retrograde filling when PCS is suspected and noninvasive imaging is inconclusive. Enables direct
therapeutic intervention (embolization, sclerotherapy).

CT and MRI: Provide complete examination of pelvic anatomy and better imaging with spatial resolution, but do not allow for therapeutic intervention. Specificity is considered low, but can identify other causes of CPP or coexisting pathologies.

Laparoscopy: Performed as part of CPP investigation for detection of endometriosis or adhesions. Less established for PCS diagnosis. Performed in supine position, thereby overlooking pelvic varicosities.

Abbreviations: CPP: Chronic pelvic pain // CT: Computer tomography // MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging // PCS: Pelvic congestion syndrome

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