Pelvic congestion syndrome: Don’t suffer in silence

Written by: Professor Mark Whiteley
Published: | Updated: 09/05/2023
Edited by: Sophie Kennedy

You might have never heard of pelvic congestion syndrome, but it’s estimated to affect nearly ten per cent of women. Pelvic congestion syndrome occurs when you get varicose veins in your pelvic area – such as in the vulva or the vagina – and these veins push on the bladder, bowel and pelvic floor.


Pelvic congestion syndrome can be painful. You might experience an aching or dragging feeling that gets worse during your period or when you exercise, as well as discomfort during sex. You might also experience an irritable bowel or trouble with your bladder. In this article, we ask celebrated vascular surgeon Professor Mark Whiteley what causes pelvic congestion syndrome and how it can be treated.



What causes pelvic congestion syndrome?


Pelvic congestion syndrome is caused by the development of varicose veins in your pelvic area. These are veins that have stopped functioning properly because there is something wrong with the valves. As a result, blood that should be pumped back to the heart instead remains within the pelvis and pushes on organs such as the bladder or bowels.


These veins generally develop during pregnancy. They might ease after childbirth, but they don’t disappear completely, and further pregnancies tend to worsen the condition.


Men can also get veins in the pelvic area, but they are generally more visible and therefore more easily picked up at the clinic. For women, however, the problem veins are usually deep within the body, so it’s common to be misdiagnosed and simply be prescribed painkillers. These can help relieve some of the pain, but they don’t tackle the root of the problem – and you might find that your pain gets worse over time.


Even when the right diagnosis is made, there are many doctors who will tell you that there isn’t a way to treat it. But this is wrong. We’ve been treating vascular veins in the pelvic area for twenty years.


How is pelvic congestion syndrome treated?


The first step in treatment is to conduct a thorough scan of the pelvic area. It’s important to examine the patient from several different angles to get the most accurate diagnosis. If any problem veins are missed it is likely that symptoms will recur after treatment.


To tackle the problem veins, at Whiteley Clinics we use a technique called coil embolization. This is a widely-practised and minimally-invasive technique that is also used in the treatment of testicular and ovarian veins. Guided by X-ray, we use a catheter to inset tiny coils into the problem veins and block them off. This allows the blood to circulate properly again. The whole procedure is carried out under local anaesthetic and you can return home afterwards.


At Whiteley Clinics, seventy-five per cent of treatments for pelvic congestion syndrome are successful. This is on par with the most successful clinics worldwide.




If you’re struggling with pain in your pelvic area and you suspect it could be the result of varicose veins, book a consultation with Professor Whiteley by visiting his Top Doctors profiles.

By Professor Mark Whiteley
Vascular surgery

Professor Mark Whiteley has been at the forefront of varicose veins surgery in the UK for the last 20 years. Mark Whiteley performed:

  • First endovenous surgery for varicose veins in the UK in March 1999
  • First microwave closure of varicose veins in Europe in February 2019
  • First Sononvein (HIFU - High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound) treatment in the UK in May 2019

He is a prominent venous surgeon and the founder of the Whiteley Clinic, with several locations across the UK. Professor Whiteley has a special interest in the treatment of varicose veins, thread veins, leg ulcers, and pelvic congestion syndrome.

He is also the founder of The College of Phlebology, an international group for doctors, nurses, vascular scientists and technologists to discuss venous issues and find educational support. In 2013, Professor Whiteley set up the Leg Ulcer Charity, a UK national charity which aims to help patients with finding a cure for their leg ulcers. He has a strong interest in education and currently lectures as a visiting Professor at the University of Surrey. He has also sponsored PhD students and an MD position, and is highly involved with training and support. Professor Whiteley has pioneered several techniques and developed treatments along the course of his surgical career. He was the first surgeon in the UK to perform keyhole surgery for the treatment of varicose veins. His expertise is such that he has been frequently featured in the Tatler Cosmetic Surgery and Beauty Guide, and is a regular interview guest on the BBC. He has written over 100 peer-reviewed research papers and set up the College of Phlebology. 

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