What is a hymenectomy, and how does it relate to pelvic rehabilitation? To answer this question, an understanding of hymenal anatomy is useful. The hymen is tissue that lines and sometimes covers the vaginal opening. This layer of tissue can be thick or thin, and can have a variety of presentations based on embryological development such as micro perforations, bands, or septa which create distinct openings into the vaginal canal. During menstruation, having an opening through the hymen is critical so that menstrual discharge does not become blocked, and sexual function is optimized when the hymen does not create any narrowing or blockage. When the hymen completely covers the vaginal opening the condition is known as "imperforate hymen." Sometimes this anatomical variation is noticed during neonatal and early childhood examinations, unfortunately, the condition may also be undiagnosed.
Prior to her first gynecological examination, an adolescent female may be at risk for consequences of an imperforate hymen. Depending on the hymenal variation, a young female may experience urinary dysfunction or vaginal infection, but more typical is recognition of the issue when her menstrual cycle begins. Case reports in the literature describe the condition as presenting clinically as low back pain, or as abdominal pain.Complaints that may increase our suspicion about the condition in an adolescent patient may include amenorrhea, abdominal mass, abdominal pain, urinary retention, or constipation.
While it may be uncommon for us to encounter an adolescent with back or pelvic pain who has not been screened by a medical provider, knowing about the condition adds to our toolbox for medical screening. We may also meet patients who are referred to the clinic following a hymenectomy, a surgical procedure that removes all or part of a woman's hymen. In asymptomatic patients who have an imperforate hymen, a surgical procedure may be delayed until puberty, when estrogen's effects on the tissues may negate the need for a procedure. Click here to view basic images of the procedure, and here to access a Medscape article with further details about epidemiology, pathophysiology, and relevant anatomy.
Unfortunately, we know that patients frequently lack a referral for conservative care for pelvic pain or dysfunction that may arise from hymenal dysfunction or surgeries. One of my most memorable and endearing patients told me her horrifying memory of having a hymenal procedure as a young child without any anesthesia.Is that the reason that she developed severe pelvic muscle dysfunction in adulthood? While we can only speculate about this connection, the more we know about a patient's history and how the reported complaints may link to dysfunction, the better. If you would like to know more about hymenectomies and other special topics, come to California, Illinois, or Connecticut this year for one of our PF3 courses to hear from experts Holly Herman and Lila Abbate.