Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of jmasHomeCurrent IssueInstructionsSubmit article
J Minim Access Surg. 2005 September; 1(3): 116–120.
PMCID: PMC3001167

Role of laparoscopy in evaluation of chronic pelvic pain



Chronic pelvic pain (CPP) is a common medical problem affecting women. Too often the physical signs are not specific. This study aims at determining the accuracy of diagnostic laparoscopy over clinical pelvic examination.

Settings and Design:

A retrospective study of patients who underwent diagnostic laparoscopy for CPP.

Materials and Methods:

The medical records of 86 women who underwent laparoscopic evaluation for CPP of at least 6-month duration were reviewed for presentation of symptoms, pelvic examination findings at the admission, operative findings and follow up when available.

Statistical analysis used:

McNemar Chi-square test for frequencies in a 2 × 2 table.


The most common presentation was acyclic lower abdominal pain (79.1%), followed by congestive dysmenorrhoea (26.7%). 61.6% of women did not reveal any significant signs on pelvic examination. Pelvic tenderness was elicited in 27.9%. Diagnostic laparoscopy revealed significant pelvic pathology in 58% of those who essentially had normal pervaginal findings. The most common pelvic pathology by laparoscopy was pelvic adhesions (20.9%), followed by pelvic congestion (18.6%). Laparoscopic adhesiolyis achieved pain relief only in one-third of the women.


The study revealed very low incidence of endometriosis (4.7%). Overall clinical examination could detect abnormality in only 38% of women, where as laparoscopy could detect significant pathology in 66% of women with CPP. This shows superiority of diagnostic laparoscopy over clinical examination in detection of aetiology in women with CPP (P < 0.001). Adhesiolysis helps only small proportion of women in achieving pain control.

Keywords: chronic pelvic pain, endometriosis, laparoscopy, pelvic adhesions

Chronic pelvic pain (CPP) is one of the commonest symptomatology in gynaecological out patient clinics. It accounts for 10% of office visits to gynaecologists[1] and general clinics.[2] According to Renaer,[3] CPP accounts for about a quarter of out patient consultations in general gynaecological practice. Arbitrarily CPP is defined as 6 months or more of constant or intermittent, cyclic or acyclic pelvic pain that includes dysmenorrhoea, deep dypareunia and intermenstrual pain.[4,5] However, the objective evaluation of pain poses a complex task as most of the times physical signs are absent. Most of the times patients are treated symptomatically or referred to psychiatrist as somatoform disorder without adequate diagnostic evaluation.[6]

Laparoscopy is a valuable tool in the evaluation of undiagnosed CPP. It can establish a definitive diagnosis and modify the treatment without resorting to exploratory laparotomy. It is also an extremely valuable adjunct in gynaecologist's armamentarium especially in confirming minimal disease and adhesions, which cannot be revealed sonographically. The following study is an attempt in understanding the aetiology of such a complex and perplexing problem in day-to-day gynaecological practice.


Between January 1999 and December 2003, 86 women were admitted to Department of OBG, Manipal Teaching Hospital, Pokhara for laparoscopic evaluation of CPP of at least 6-month duration. Their medical records were reviewed for presentation of symptoms, pelvic examination findings at the admission, operative findings and follow up when available. [Table 1] shows presenting symptoms at the time of admission.

Table 1
Main symptoms in 86 women with CPP

The most common presentation was lower abdominal pain (79.1%) bearing no relation to the menstrual cycles. Four women with severe spasmodic dysmenorrhoea were admitted for further evaluation, as they did not respond to NSAIDs and combination pills. Psychosomatic disorders were ruled out by referring to the psychiatrist. Fair antibiotic trial was given for adequate duration in those who had questionable evidence of PID and were considered for laparoscopy only after they failed to respond for medical therapy to redefine the diagnosis. Patients with superficial dyspareunia were not included in the study. Surgical referral was done whenever pain was predominant in one of the iliac fossae and with previous history of appendicectomy.

Age ranged from 19 to 48 years, with mean of 28 years. Parity ranged from 0 to 8 with mean of 2.8. Nine women were nulliparae. Nineteen had history of previous surgery (tubal sterilization-11, caesarean section-5, appendicectomy-2 and ovarian cystectomy-1). Nine women had history of first trimester MTP. Eight had undergone dilatation and curettage for menstrual irregularities.

[Table 2] shows the main presenting symptoms in these 86 women. Pelvic tenderness on pervaginal examination was the most common finding (27.9%), followed by forniceal fullness (15.1%). Fifty-three (61.6%) women did not reveal any significant signs.

Table 2
Pervaginal findings in 86 women with CPP

Diagnostic laparoscopy was performed under general anaesthesia. A 5-mm Karl Stortz 30° angle double port laparoscope was used. Carbon dioxide pneumoperitoneum was accomplished with a 15-gauge Verres needle. When manipulation of the pelvic organs was required for improved visualization, a second puncture site was established lateral to left rectus muscle under vision taking care to avoid injury to inferior epigastric artery. A third port was established similarly on right side whenever an operative procedure was undertaken such as, fulguration, adhesiolysis and cyst wall puncture. Under surface of liver and diaphragm was always inspected for adhesions before completing procedure.


The main objective of this study was to correlate laparoscopic findings with preoperative pelvic findings, to determine the type of pathology existing and to re-evaluate the treatment strategy. Of 86 women enrolled for study, only 33 (38%) had significant findings on preoperative pelvic examination. In contrast 57 (66%) had abnormal findings on laparoscopy. Conversely 53 (62%) had normal preoperative pelvic findings and 29 (33%) were negative for pathology on laparoscopy.

[Table 3] shows correlation between pelvic and laparoscopy examination findings. Fifty-eight per cent (31/53) of those who had normal preoperative pelvic findings and 79% (26/33) of those with abnormal preoperative pelvic findings had significant pelvic pathology on laparoscopy. The error in pelvic examination in symptomatic patients varied from 21% (normal findings) to 58% (abnormal findings).

Table 3
Correlation between pelvic examination and laparoscopic findings

[Table 4] shows correlation between laparoscopic and pelvic examination findings. Preoperative examination was abnormal in 24% (7/29) in those who had no pathology on laparoscopy. Conversely out of 57 women who had abnormal findings on laparoscopy 54% (31/57) had essentially no findings on pervaginal examination.

Table 4
Correlation between laparoscopic and pelvic examination findings

To summarize, clinical examination could detect abnormality only in 33 (38%) women, where as laparoscopy could detect pathology in 57 (66%) women with CPP. This shows superiority of diagnostic laparoscopy over clinical examination in detection of aetiology in these women, which is statistically agreeable (χ2 = 86, P < 0.001, McNemar Chi-square test).

Actual laparoscopic findings are shown in [Table 5]. The most common pelvic pathology seen in this study was pelvic adhesions (20.9%) followed by pelvic congestion (18.6%). The diagnosis of PID was considered if one of the following criteria were present; hyperaemic, oedematous and congested fallopian tube, pus oozing from fimbriae and presence of hydro/pyosalpinx. Pelvic congestion was diagnosed in the presence of bulky, boggy uterus, broad ligament and infundibulopelvic ligament varicosities. However none of the patients had undergone pelvic venography for diagnosis of pelvic congestion before the laparoscopy procedure as this procedure was not yet available in the institution where the study was carried out and the diagnosis was based on the laparoscopist's expertise.

Table 5
Laparoscopic findings in 86 women with CPP

Seven patients had ovarian pathology (simple follicular cyst 4, polycystic ovaries 2, ruptured corpus luteal cyst 1), though theoretically they could not explain origin of pelvic pain. The maximum size of the cyst was 4 cm and all cysts were aspirated. When the cases were followed up subsequently, none had recurrence of the cyst. Surprisingly the incidence of endometriosis in this study was only 4.7%. They presented as jelly like deposits, powder black burns, white-scarred areas and puckered lesions. Only two of them had positive findings preoperatively in the form of cul-de sac nodularity and all belonged to stage-I disease by revised American fertility society (AFS) classification. Three patients had fibroid uterus, not diagnosed initially even by sonography. Only one had doubtful cul-de-sac nodularity in preoperative pelvic examination. All three myomas measured less than 2 cm and obviously were subserous.

[Table 6] shows the type of previous operations in patients with adhesions. In 38.9% no obvious cause could be detected. This may be attributed to ‘silent PID’ resulting from Chlamydia and Mycoplasma group of organisms. Tubal ligations (none were laparoscopic sterilizations) accounted for 22.2% of cases. None of the adhesions were associated with bowel obstruction.

Table 6
Nature of previous ‘surgery’ in patients with adhesions (n = 18)

Adhesions were classified according to adhesion scoring method of AFS,[7] i.e. grade I (localized covering one-third of adnexa), grade II (moderate, covering one-third to two-thirds of the adnexa) and grade III (extensive adhesions covering more than two-thirds of adnexa). All cases of grade-I adhesions were lysed at the time of diagnostic laparoscopy. There were three cases of grade-II adhesions and we could not release adhesions completely in two cases mainly because of close proximity to the rectum fearing bowel injury. Grade-III adhesion was present only in one case who had undergone caesarean section previously and adhesiolyis was not attempted as whole pelvis was obscured. We have tried a course of steroids for adhesiolysis failure, but results are not promising. At the time of reporting this paper, only 33% (4 out of 12) of those who underwent adhesiolyis seem to be benefited from the procedure at the end of 1 year of observation.


This study confirms the previous observations that laparoscopy is an effective tool in the evaluation of women with CPP.[8,9] The error in diagnosis at preoperative pelvic examination in this study ranged from 21 to 58%. There was better correlation between abnormal preoperative pelvic examination and abnormal laparoscopic findings (79%, [Table 3]. Similar experiences were reported by other authors.[10,11] [Table 7] shows observations made regarding negative laparoscopy in various studies.

Table 7
Pathology identified during laparoscopy

An interesting observation made during this study was that the incidence of endometriosis is very low in this part of Nepal (4.7%). This may be due to prevalence of early child bearing, prolonged breast feeding[16] and higher use of Depo-Provera for contraception in Nepalese women. Family Planning Association Statistics for the year 2003 showed that 48% of women preferred Depo-Provera as the method of choice for contraception.[17] Since FDA approval for contraceptive use in 1992, Depot Medroxy-Progesterone Acetate (DMPA or Depo-Provera) has been used by millions of women worldwide and its long term benefit in reducing the incidence of dysmenorrhoea, menorrhagia, endometriosis, endometrial hyperplasia, ovulatory pain and pain associated with ovarian adhesive disease is well known.[18] The incidence of endometriosis by different authors is shown in [Table 8].

Table 8
Incidence of endometriosis in series of patients who underwent laparoscopy for CPP


One of the most perplexing problems facing the gynaecologist is the patient who has CPP. When there are objective physical signs and symptoms, the accuracy for diagnosis of origin of pain is increased. However, too often the physical signs are not specific; e.g. pelvic tenderness, pelvic congestion,[20] questionable pelvic mass and adnexal fullness. The present study indicates that laparoscopy is an excellent tool in evaluation of patients with pelvic pain, because diagnosis and often treatment (e.g. adhesiolysis,[21] cyst aspiration) can be accomplished in one sitting, without subjecting the patients to exploratory laparotomy. Endometriosis can be diagnosed only by laparoscopy, and it can often be treated at the time of diagnosis by either electrocoagulation or laser vaporization. In fact there is some suggestion in the literature that entity of CPP is best investigated laparoscopically before any treatment is planned.[22] Recently laparoscopic pain mapping[23,24] under local anaesthesia and sedation appears to be promising to improve the accuracy of laparoscopy as a diagnostic tool in CPP.

At present the role of adhesiolysis in treatment of CPP is still controversial. It is not shown to be effective in achieving pain control in randomized clinical studies.[25] Second look laparoscopy studies reveal a surprising amount of adhesion reformation despite good surgical technique.[26,27] In the present study, only 33% had pain relief at the end of 1 year of observation, however the number studied is too small and a larger prospective study may be needed to derive statistically significant conclusion.


1. Reiter RC. A profile of women with chronic pelvic pain. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 1990;33:130–6. [PubMed]
2. Walker EA, Katon WJ, Jemelka RP, Alfrey H, Bowers M. Stenchever MA The prevalence of chronic pelvic pain and irritable bowl syndrome in two university clinics. J Psychosomatic Obstet Gynecol. 1989;12:65–75.
3. Renaer M. Chronic Pelvic Pain in Women, p1. New York: Springer-Verlag; 1981.
4. Kresh AJ, Seifer DB, Sachs LB. Laparoscopy in 100 women with chronic pelvic pain. Obst Gynecol. 1984;64:672. [PubMed]
5. Rapkin AJ. Adhesions and pelvic pain: a retrospective study. Obstet Gynecol. 1986;68:13. [PubMed]
6. Richter HE, Holley RL, Chandraiah S, Varner RE. Laparoscopic and psychologic evaluation of women with chronic pelvic pain. Int J Psychiatr Med. 1998;28:243–53. [PubMed]
7. Goldstein DP. New insights into the old problem of chronic pelvic pain. J Pediatr Surg. 1979;14:675. [PubMed]
8. American Fertility Society. The American Fertility Society classification of adnexal adhesions, distal tubal occlusion, tubal occlusion secondary to tubal ligation, tubal pregnancies, Mullerian anomalies and intrauterine adhesions. Fertil Steril. 1988;49:944–55. [PubMed]
9. Goldstein DP, Emans SJ, Leventhal JM. Laparoscopy in the diagnosis and management of pelvic pain in adolescents. J Reprod Med. 1980;24:251. [PubMed]
10. Murphy A, Flinger J. Diagnostic laparoscopy: Role in management of pelvic pain. Med J Aust. 1981;1:571. [PubMed]
11. Kontoravdis A, Hassan E, Hassiakos D, Botsis D, Kontoravdis N, Creatsas G. Laparoscopic evaluation and management of chronic pelvic pain during adolescence. Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol. 1999;26:76–7. [PubMed]
12. Kleinhaus S, Hein K, Sheran M, Boley SJ. Laparoscopy for diagnosis and treatement of abdominal pain in adolescent girls. Arch Surg. 1977;112:1178–9. [PubMed]
13. Chatman DL, Ward AB. Endometriosis in adolescents. J Reprod Med. 1982;27:156. [PubMed]
14. Vercellini P, Fedele L, Arcaini L, Bianchi S, Rognoni MT, Candiani GB. Laparoscopy in the diagnosis of chronic pelvic pain in adolescent women. J Reprod Med. 1989;34:827–30. [PubMed]
15. Porpora MG, Gomel V. The role of laparoscopy in the management of pelvic pain in women of reproductive age. Fertil Steril. 1997;68:765–79. [PubMed]
16. Missmer SA, Hankinson SE, Spiegelman D, Barbieri RL, Malspeis S, Willett WC, et al. Reproductive history and endometriosis among premenopausal women. Obstet Gynecol. 2004;104:965–74. [PubMed]
17. Family Planning Association of Nepal. Web url:
18. Kaunitz AM. Injectable depot medroxyprogesterone acetate contraception: an update for U.S. clinicians. Int J Fertil Womens Med. 1998;43:73–83. [PubMed]
19. Rajan R. J Obstet Gynecol India. 1988;38:456.
20. Papathanasiou K, Papageorgiou C, Panidis D, Mantalenakis S. Our experience in laparoscopic diagnosis and management in women with chronic pelvic pain. Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol. 1999;26:190–2. [PubMed]
21. Nezhat FR, Crystal RA, Nezhat CH, Nezhat CR. Laparoscopic adhesiolysis and relief of chronic pelvic pain. JSLS. 2000;4:281–5. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
22. Dwarakanath LS, Persad PS, Khan KS. Role of laparoscopy in the management of chronic pelvic pain. Hosp Med. 1998;59:627–31. [PubMed]
23. Howard FM. The role of laparoscopy as a diagnostic tool in chronic pelvic pain. Baillieres Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol. 2000;14:467–94. [PubMed]
24. Howard FM, El-Minawi AM, Sanchez RA. Conscious pain mapping by laparoscopy in women with chronic pelvic pain. Obstet Gynecol. 2000;96:934–9. [PubMed]
25. Hammoud A, Gago LA, Diamond MP. Adhesions in patients with chronic pelvic pain: a role for adhesiolysis? Fertil Steril. 2004;82:1483–91. [PubMed]
26. Trimbos-Kemper TC, Trimbos JB, van Hall EV. Adhesion formation after tubal surgery: results of the eighth day laparoscopy in 188 patients. Fert Ster. 1985;43:395–400. [PubMed]
27. Tulandi T, Falcone T, Kafka I. Second-look operative laparoscopy one year following reproductive surgery. Fert Ster. 1989;52:421–4. [PubMed]

Articles from Journal of Minimal Access Surgery are provided here courtesy of Medknow Publications