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Objective To investigate and compare the demographic and psychosocial profiles of women with chronic pelvic pain, chronic pain in a different site, and those with no history of pain with specific reference to a history of sexual abuse.

Design A prospective comparative study.

Setting Pelvic Pain Clinic at Leicester General Hospital NHS Trust, Pain Management Clinic at Leicester Royal Infirmary NHS Trust and two General Practices.

Participants Thirty women with chronic pelvic pain, 30 women with chronic pain in a different site and 30 women attending their general practitioner with no history of pain.

Interventions A specifically designed patient profile questionnaire to identify and explore incidents of sexual and physical abuse was administered to each woman by a research psychologist for confidential self-completion. Data were also collected on other demographic, medical and psychosocial characteristics.

Results Women with chronic pelvic pain were found to have a higher lifetime prevalence of sexual abuse, involving penetration or other genital contact compared with the two comparison groups. The prevalence of physical abuse was the same in all groups. Women in the pelvic pain group were more likely to have approached their GP for symptoms not related to pelvic pain than women in the other two groups and the incidence of clinical anxiety was significantly higher in this group compared with the pain-free group. The prevalence of sexual problems was much higher in the group with pelvic pain compared with the other two groups.

Conclusion These findings indicate that women with chronic pelvic pain have a higher incidence of past sexual abuse compared with women in a comparison pain group and with women with no pain.