Impact of pelvic pain on women and economy 'vastly underestimated'


One in two Australian women have experienced pelvic pain in the last five years according to new research, with half of those living with symptoms saying the condition has affected their capacity to work.


According to Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, almost half (47%) of Australian women have experienced pelvic pain in the last five years. Close to half of those respondents impacted by pelvic pain indicated they also needed to take an extended break or stop exercise or work or study. 

The findings are from the Pelvic Pain in Australian Women report - a representative survey of Australian women aged 18 years and over - launched just ahead of Women’s Health Week, 4-8 September.

Jean Hailes CEO, Sarah White, said the findings suggest the impact of pelvic pain on women and the Australian economy are vastly underestimated. “With the prevalence of pelvic pain, general practitioners and other health professionals should proactively ask women whether they experience pelvic pain rather than wait for women to raise the issue themselves.”

The research also demonstrated the impact of pelvic pain on women’s mental health and relationships.

Half of women with pelvic pain did not discuss their symptoms with a doctor, with 35% of those surveyed feeling that nothing could be done. Only 19% of women felt they had the necessary information to manage their symptoms, and 69% felt their symptoms weren’t bad enough to justify a discussion with a doctor. Negative impacts also extended to respondents’ mental and emotional wellbeing (57%), and relationships with their partner (31%) and with friends and family (22%).

What is pelvic pain?

Pelvic pain is felt in lower abdomen and lower back. It can include dull aching, or debilitating cramping or sharp, shooting pain. It may also cause pain while sitting for long periods of time, pain during intercourse and pain when inserting a tampon. Pelvic pain can also be symptomatic of chronic conditions like endometriosis, adenomyosis, irritable bowel syndrome, pelvic floor dysfunction, painful bladder syndrome, urinary tract infections and vulvodynia.

Endometriosis in the workplace

In February this year, an Endometriosis Australia report also found one in six women living with endometriosis face losing their job due to managing the painful pelvic pain disorder, while one in three are likely to be overlooked for a promotion.

Endometriosis Australia surveyed 389 participants with endometriosis to examine the impact of the condition on a person’s career and how workplace changes can influence management of the debilitating disease. 

The research, done in partnership with Southern Cross University and Western Sydney University’s NICM Health Research Institute, also found:

  • 70% of people with endometriosis have to take unpaid time off work to manage symptoms 
  • 50% said lack of workplace flexibility was a significant problem
  • 90% thought flexibility in hours and working from home could improve their management of endo in the workplace.

“Endometriosis is a life-defining disease which has a devastating impact on 1 in 9 young girls and women, around 11.8% of Australian females. It affects every facet of their lives, work, and for many, fertility,” said WOB member and Endometriosis Australia CEO, Maree Davenport.

As well as having devastating effects on those living with the disease, endometriosis is reported to cost more than $7.7 billion in healthcare, absenteeism and lost social and economic participation (National Action Plan for Endometriosis, page 2).  

“Those with endometriosis who gain and keep jobs attribute their success to flexible and reasonable workplaces and understanding and empathic managers and colleagues. COVID-19 restrictions (WFH) have demonstrated that for those with endometriosis, changes in working arrangements, mostly around the ability to self-manage working hours and rest breaks, improved their quality of life and productivity,” added Maree.

Endometriosis Australia is developing guidelines in partnership with academics at Western Sydney University for Australian employers. Businesses, public sector and for purpose organisations can become endo-friendly Endometriosis Australia Accredited workplaces through the Endo Au Workplace Assistance Program.

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