What is pelvic inflammatory disease?
An infection of the female reproductive system, pelvic inflammatory disease is a common condition to be aware of. We’ll discuss the basics of PID, including symptoms to watch for, common causes, how it’s diagnosed, and treatment methods.
Overview of pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the female reproductive system that typically affects the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and cervix. A variety of bacteria can lead to the condition: PID can be caused by bacteria naturally found in the vagina or bacteria from a sexually transmitted infection (also known as an STI). Infections from gonorrhea and chlamydia infections are the most likely to result in PID.
An untreated case of PID increases the risk of long-term pelvic pain, infertility, and other complications during pregnancy. Pelvic inflammatory disease is often a complication of an untreated sexually transmitted infection, so early treatment of an STI may reduce the likelihood of PID.
Signs and symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease
vaginal-testing-comboPelvic inflammatory disease symptoms may be mild and unnoticeable at first or may not appear right away. As the pelvic inflammatory disease worsens, you may experience:
- Pain in your lower abdomen or pelvis
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding (between periods or heavier bleeding during your period)
- Bleeding during or after sex
- Vaginal discharge with an unusual odor and color (yellow or green)
- Pain during sex or when you pee
- A difficult time urinating or peeing frequently
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fever and chills
Possible complications of PID include ectopic pregnancy, infertility, abscesses in the fallopian tubes and ovaries, and chronic pelvic pain. These issues may be due to scarring on the fallopian tubes from getting PID multiple times. Scarring of the fallopian tubes can make it more difficult for your eggs to move and navigate as usual, which can impact fertility and your ability to get pregnant.
Causes of pelvic inflammatory disease
Your cervix serves to prevent bacteria from spreading to your other sexual organs, including the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. However, when the cervix is infected, it becomes less effective at protecting your reproductive organs from “bad” bacteria. Sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia or gonorrhea cause 90% of PID cases. Not all cases of PID are caused by having sex, though. Other causes include childbirth, pelvic procedures, abortion, or an infection due to the insertion of an IUD, which has a lower risk than other causes. You’re at greater risk of PID if:
- You’re younger than 25 and sexually active — most commonly between the ages of 15 and 24
- You’ve previously had PID There’s damage to your cervix due to childbirth or miscarriage
- You currently have an STI — primarily chlamydia or gonorrhea You or your partner have had many sexual partners
- Douching — This can push vaginal bacteria into sexual organs and can easily hide some of the symptoms of PID
To help reduce your risk of PID, adopt safer sex practices by getting tested for STIs with new partners, using barrier birth control methods like condoms, getting regular checkups with your health care provider, and making sure to seek treatment if you notice any symptoms.
Diagnosing pelvic inflammatory disease
If you experience any of the symptoms associated with PID, get in touch with your primary care provider because the sooner you can get a diagnosis, the better. To get an accurate diagnosis, a variety of tests are necessary. Your health care provider will review your medical history, including your sexual habits, history of sexually transmitted infections, and your chosen method of birth control.
Other requirements may include a pelvic exam, blood or urine tests, taking a vaginal culture to sample any bacteria, and having an ultrasound or other imaging tests of your reproductive organs. With a pelvic exam, your doctor can check for tenderness and abnormal vaginal discharge. Additionally, blood and urine tests help to check for signs of infection.
Make sure to tell your doctor about all of the symptoms you’re experiencing as they will help rule out other diagnoses. Further tests may be necessary if there isn’t enough evidence for a diagnosis. Inform any sexual partner you’ve had in the last 60 days of your diagnosis so that they can get tested for STIs, too.
Treating pelvic inflammatory disease
Typically, antibiotics are the preferred treatment for PID. You can help to prevent reinfection by avoiding sex during treatment. Continue this avoidance for the week following the cycle of antibiotics. Always finish the round of antibiotics, usually a two-week course even if symptoms have gone away and you’re starting to feel better.
In more severe cases, you may need treatment at a hospital. Your doctor might recommend a follow-up appointment depending on the treatment method. If the chosen treatment method doesn’t help your symptoms within a few days, discuss other options with your primary care provider. Reasons for hospital admittance include:
- Taking antibiotics hasn’t improved symptoms, and more tests are needed
- Pregnancy — this can affect whether you can take antibiotics
- You need to take antibiotics by IV because pills won’t stay down
- An abscess develops and an ovary or fallopian tube needs draining to get rid of infected fluid
- When symptoms include vomiting or high fever and another abdominal problem, like appendicitis, can’t be ruled out
It’s important to note that while pelvic inflammatory disease can be cured with antibiotics, this type of treatment cannot fix any damage to your reproductive system as a result of PID.
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