Dr. Robert J. Echenberg is the founder of the Echenberg Institute for Pelvic and Sexual Pain in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Previously known as the Institute for Women in Pain, Dr. Echenberg’s practice is one of the first privately owned multi-disciplinary practices exclusively specializing in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of chronic pelvic pain (CPP). Since its inception in 2006, the Institute has treated more than 1,200 women and a growing number of men with pelvic and sexual pain disorders from 25 states and five countries.
A member of ICA’s Medical Advisory Board, Dr. Echenberg is the author of the book Secret Suffering: How Women’s Pelvic and Sexual Pain Affects Their Relationships. Dr. Echenberg spoke with ICA Update about IC and overlapping conditions, why education must come before medication, and ways in which the medical system must change to address the needs of patients with overlapping chronic inflammatory and pain conditions.
The Interstitial Cystitis Association (ICA) is the only nonprofit association dedicated solely to improving the quality of healthcare and lives of people living with interstitial cystitis (IC).
Mark Toner is editor of ICA Update
Talk about how IC fits into the variety of overlapping conditions you treat.
I started this program in 2001 when asked to develop a nonsurgical approach to female pelvic pain through our department of obstetrics and gynecology. We knew that all over the country young women were receiving multiple invasive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures for persistent and otherwise unexplained painful symptoms in the pelvic region (between the belly button and mid thigh). I found early on that IC was a cornerstone, if not one of the most common triggers of pelvic pain.
There’s a huge spectrum of pelvic pain patients, both male and female. Many conditions within the pelvic organs such as IC, endometriosis, and IBS are common organ or visceral generators of pain within the pelvis, but what I soon realized is that we were generally not even thinking of all the muscles, ligaments, and nerves that almost always contribute to the pain itself.
Much of the literature and my own experience since 2001 points to bladder pain syndromes being at least part of the picture of chronic pelvic, genital, and sexual pain about 80 to 85 percent of the time. That’s a huge number, and chronic pelvic pain translates into tens of millions of individuals in the U.S. alone. Not only are multiple parts of the anatomic pelvis involved in persistent painful pelvic symptoms, but there are also many overlapping inflammatory issues and other pain syndromes commonly associated with CPP. These include migraine, fibromyalgia, TMJ, multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, all the autoimmune disorders, and others. IC patients are among large numbers of people suffering not only pain, but also fatigue, sleep disorders, hypersensitivities, allergies, and other slowly disabling illnesses that plague our health care system. (more…)