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Novel Pelvic Floor Pain Measures to Enhance Female Pelvic Pain Evaluation

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A major shortcoming in the present diagnostic framework for painful bladder syndrome (PBS) and related pelvic pain disorders is the failure to incorporate objective measures of pain sensitivity. As a gynecologist, the applicant's long-term research goal is to define modifiable disease mechanisms in urogenital pain syndromes. Through the present application, he seeks training in the physiological assessment of pain in order to mechanistically subtype pelvic pain patients. At present, failure to systematically diagnose heterogeneous etiologies in pelvic pain hinders the rational use of specific interventions. A two part-program is proposed. First, under a structured program of mentorship (drawn from gynecology, urology, gastroenterology, psychology, physiology, and neurology) he will study relevant pain physiology and pertinent correlates of the human pain experience. The candidate will engage in both formal didactic and experiential training in design of multi-site clinical trials, assessment of pain physiology in diseased states, and characterization of psychological determinants of pain experience. Simultaneously, he will gain practical experience while conducting a prospective observational study of one important but understudied aspect of PBS and related pelvic pain syndromes: pelvic floor pain dysfunction. The central hypothesis is that women suffering from PBS have increased pelvic floor pain sensitivity (i.e., worse pain when the muscles are examined by a clinician) compared to healthy controls. This hypothesis will be tested using three specific aims: 1) Determine whether pelvic floor (somatic) pain sensitivity is enhanced in PBS; 2) Determine correlates of enhanced bladder (visceral) pain sensitivity; and 3) To correlate urogenital distress among PBS patients and pain-free controls with pelvic muscle pain sensitivity, visceral pain sensitivity, and psychological factors. The approach is innovative, by employing accepted pain assessment tools to an important, understudied area: the pelvic floor musculature. The research proposed in this application is significant for improving diagnosis of PBS and other pelvic pain syndromes in both women and men. Objective, valid measures of pelvic floor pain dysfunction will allow rational application of mechanism-specific treatments, such as physical therapy, neuropathic pain medications, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or botulinum toxin injections. Public Narrative: The outcomes of this study will likely enhance our approach to the assessment of pain symptomatology not only in PBS, but in all pelvic pain syndromes associated with pelvic floor sensitivity or irritative voiding symptoms.
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