Painful gynecologic and obstetric complications of female genital mutilation/cutting: A systematic review and meta-analysis

PLoS Med. 2020 Mar 31;17(3):e1003088. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003088. eCollection 2020 Mar.


Background: The health complications experienced by women having undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) are a source of growing concern to healthcare workers globally as forced displacement and migration from countries with high rates of this practice increases. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we investigate the association between FGM/C and painful gynecologic and obstetric complications in women affected by the practice.

Methods and findings: We performed a comprehensive literature search from inception to December 19, 2019 of Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid EMBASE, The Cochrane Library (Wiley), and POPLINE (prior to its retirement) for studies mentioning FGM/C. Two reviewers independently screened studies reporting prevalences of painful gynecologic and obstetric sequelae resulting from FGM/C. Random effects models were used to estimate pooled odds ratios (ORs) for outcomes obtained from cross-sectional, cohort, and case-control designs. Subgroup analysis was performed to assess and control for effect differences introduced by study design. Validated appraisal tools were utilized to assess quality and risk of bias. Our study was registered with PROSPERO. Two reviewers independently screened 6,666 abstracts. Of 559 full-text studies assessed for eligibility, 116 met eligibility criteria, which included studies describing the incidence or prevalence of painful sequelae associated with FGM/C. Pooled analyses after adjustment for study design found that FGM/C was associated with dyspareunia (6,283 FGM/C and 3,382 non-FGM/C participants; pooled OR: 2.47; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.45-4.21; I2: 79%; p-value < 0.01), perineal tears (4,898 FGM/C and 4,229 non-FGM/C participants; pooled OR: 2.63; 95% CI: 1.35-5.11; I2: 67%; p-value = 0.01), dysuria (3,686 FGM/C and 3,482 non-FGM/C participants; pooled OR: 1.43; 95% CI: 1.17-1.75; I2: 0%; p-value = 0.01), episiotomy (29,341 FGM/C and 39,260 non-FGM/C participants; pooled OR: 1.89; 95% CI: 1.26-2.82; I2: 96%; p-value < 0.01), and prolonged labor (7,516 FGM/C and 8,060 non-FGM/C participants; pooled OR: 2.04; 95% CI: 1.27-3.28; I2: 90%; p-value < 0.01). There was insufficient evidence to conclude that there was an association between FGM/C and dysmenorrhea (7,349 FGM/C and 4,411 non-FGM/C participants; pooled OR: 1.66; 95% CI: 0.97-2.84; I2: 86%; p-value = 0.06), urinary tract infection (4,493 FGM/C and 3,776 non-FGM/C participants; pooled OR: 2.11; 95% CI: 0.80-5.54; I2: 90%; p-value = 0.10), instrumental delivery (5,176 FGM/C and 31,923 non-FGM/C participants; pooled OR: 1.18; 95% CI: 0.78-1.79; I2: 63%; p-value = 0.40), or cesarean delivery (34,693 FGM/C and 46,013 non-FGM/C participants; pooled OR: 1.51; 95% CI: 0.99-2.30; I2: 96%; p-value = 0.05). Studies generally met quality assurance criteria. Limitations of this study include the largely suboptimal quality of studies.

Conclusions: In this study, we observed that specific painful outcomes are significantly more common in participants with FGM/C. Women who underwent FGM/C were around twice as likely as non-FGM/C women to experience dyspareunia, perineal tears, prolonged labor, and episiotomy. These data indicate that providers must familiarize themselves with the unique health consequences of FGM/C, including accurate diagnosis, pain management, and obstetric planning.

Review protocol registration: The review protocol registration in PROSPERO is CRD42018115848.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Circumcision, Female / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Female Urogenital Diseases / etiology
  • Humans
  • Obstetric Labor Complications / etiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Vasoplegia / epidemiology*

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work.