What is pelvic inflammatory disease?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this condition affects about 5 percent of women in the United States.
Several different types of bacteria can cause PID, including the same bacteria that cause the sexually transmitted infections (STIs) gonorrhea and chlamydia. What commonly occurs is that bacteria first enter the vagina and cause an infection. As time passes, this infection can move into the pelvic organs.
PID can become extremely dangerous, even life-threatening, if the infection spreads to your blood. If you suspect that you may have an infection, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Other factors that can heighten your risk for PID include:
Some women with pelvic inflammatory disease don’t have symptoms. For the women who do have symptoms, these can include:
- pain in the lower abdomen (the most common symptom)
- pain in the upper abdomen
- painful sex
- painful urination
- irregular bleeding
- increased or foul-smelling vaginal discharge
Pelvic inflammatory disease can cause mild or moderate pain. However, some women have severe pain and symptoms, such as:
If you have severe symptoms, call your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room. The infection may have spread to your bloodstream or other parts of your body. This can be life-threatening.
Your doctor may be able to diagnose PID after hearing your symptoms. In most cases, your doctor will run tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Tests may include:
- pelvic exam to check your pelvic organs
- cervical culture to check your cervix for infections
- urine test to check your urine for signs of blood, cancer, and other diseases
After collecting samples, your doctor sends these samples to a laboratory.
If your doctor determines that you have pelvic inflammatory disease, they may run more tests and check your pelvic area for damage. PID can cause scarring on your fallopian tubes and permanent damage to your reproductive organs.
Additional tests include:
- Pelvic ultrasound. This is an imaging test that uses sound waves to create pictures of your internal organs.
- Endometrial biopsy. In this outpatient procedure a doctor removes and examines a small sample from the lining of your uterus.
- Laparoscopy. A laparoscopy is an outpatient procedure where a doctor inserts a flexible instrument through an incision in your abdomen and takes pictures of your pelvic organs.
Your doctor will likely have you take antibiotics to treat PID. Because your doctor may not know the type of bacteria that caused your infection, they might give you two different types of antibiotics to treat a variety of bacteria.
Within a few days of starting treatment, your symptoms may improve or go away. However, you should finish your medication, even if you’re feeling better. Stopping your medication early may cause the infection to return.
If you’re sick or pregnant, can’t swallow pills, or have an abscess (pocket of pus caused by the infection) in your pelvis, your doctor may send you to the hospital for treatment.
Pelvic inflammatory disease may require surgery. This is rare and only necessary if an abscess in your pelvis ruptures or your doctor suspects that an abscess will rupture. It can also be necessary if the infection doesn’t respond to treatment.
The bacteria that cause PID can spread through sexual contact. If you’re sexually active, your partner should also get treated for PID. Men may be silent carriers of bacteria that cause pelvic inflammatory disease.
Your infection can recur if your partner doesn’t receive treatment. You may be asked to abstain from sexual intercourse until the infection has been resolved.
You can lower your risk of PID by:
- practicing safe sex
- getting tested for sexually transmitted infections
- avoiding douches
- wiping from front to back after using the bathroom to stop bacteria from entering your vagina
Make a doctor’s appointment if you think that you have PID. Other conditions, such as a UTI, can feel like pelvic inflammatory disease. However, your doctor can test for PID and rule out other conditions.
If you don’t treat your PID, your symptoms can worsen and lead to problems, such as:
- infertility, an inability to conceive a child
- ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy that occurs outside the womb
- chronic pelvic pain, pain in the lower abdomen caused by scarring of the fallopian tubes and other pelvic organs
The infection can also spread to other parts of your body. If it spreads to your blood, it can become life-threatening.
Pelvic inflammatory disease is a very treatable condition and most women make a full recovery.
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