Is it common?
Oophoritis is typically caused by a bacterial infection, and may result from chronic pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This form differs from autoimmune oophoritis, a disorder caused by a malfunction of the immune system.
According to infertility specialist Brad Trivax, MD, oophoritis is an uncommon diagnosis, earmarked by cysts, inflammation, and enlargement in one or both ovaries. In some cases, it also causes damage to the fallopian tubes. When this occurs, it’s referred to as salpingo-oophoritis. PID and salpingo-oophoritis are more commonly used terms because the problem is often not confined to the ovaries.
Keep reading to learn more about why oophoritis happens, how to recognize the symptoms, and what to expect after a diagnosis.
What are the symptoms?
In some cases, this condition doesn’t cause any symptoms. It may not be diagnosed until a sudden bout of severe pelvic pain prompts you to seek medical attention.
Other times, symptoms may be mild and hard to recognize as anything out of the ordinary. Douching can also mask early symptoms, delaying diagnosis.
See your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the following:
- pain in the lower abdomen and pelvis
- menstrual bleeding that’s heavier than usual
- bleeding between menstrual cycles
- pain or bleeding during intercourse
- heavy vaginal discharge, which may have a foul odor
- burning sensations or pain during urination
- difficulty urinating
These symptoms may come on gradually or all at once. They can also increase in severity over time. These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions.
As time wears on without a diagnosis, this condition can cause:
What causes this condition and who’s at risk?
Bacteria can also get into the reproductive tract through your cervix. This can happen:
- if an intrauterine device (IUD) is inserted incorrectly
- during an abortion
- after a miscarriage
- during childbirth
It isn’t clear what causes autoimmune oophoritis. In rare cases, this form can result in primary ovarian insufficiency (POI).
How is it diagnosed?
After reviewing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will perform a physical exam. They’ll also run tests to determine if there’s an underlying infection or if there are any abnormalities near your ovaries and fallopian tubes.
These tests include:
- Blood and urine tests. These tests are used to determine your white blood cell count, as well as look for markers of inflammation. They also help your doctor rule out other diagnoses, such as cystitis.
- Pelvic exam. This allows your doctor to look for PID symptoms.
- Pelvic ultrasound. This imaging test is used to view your internal organs. Your doctor may perform both a transabdominal and a transvaginal ultrasound to get as much information as possible about your pelvic region. They’ll also assess the size of your ovaries and check for cysts or abscesses.
- Laparoscopy. If your doctor suspects salpingo-oophoritis, they’ll use this surgical test to view your fallopian tubes. To do this, they’ll insert a slender, lighted telescope through an incision in the lower abdomen. This will allow them to view your pelvic organs and remove any blockages.
What treatment options are available?
The underlying cause will determine your treatment options. For example, if you have an active STI, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Abscesses may also be treated with antibiotics.
In some cases, surgery may be needed to drain infected abscesses. Surgery may also be used to remove blockages or pelvic adhesions.
Women who have autoimmune oophoritis may benefit from hormone replacement therapy. They may also need specific treatments for their underlying condition.
If you’re experiencing pain, talk to your doctor about your options for relief. For some women, over-the-counter pain relievers and applied heat are enough to reduce symptoms. Others may benefit from stronger pain medications.
Are complications possible?
If left untreated, this condition can cause extensive damage to the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Fallopian tube damage can increase your chance of having an ectopic pregnancy.
Sometimes, fallopian damage can result in infection. If the infection is left untreated, and an abscess bursts, it can lead to sepsis. Sepsis can be life-threatening.
Pregnancy and fertility
If treated early, infectious oophoritis can be treated before it has an effect on your fertility. If treatment is delayed, your fertility may be compromised by scar tissue and blockages. These can sometimes be removed surgically, allowing you to conceive.
If your doctor is unable to remove these obstructions, they may recommend in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF bypasses the fallopian tubes, increasing your chances of conception. If both ovaries are damaged, working with an egg donor may provide a way for you to become pregnant.
There isn’t a cure for autoimmune oophoritis or its complication, POI. This is a challenging diagnosis, and it can have a negative impact on your fertility. Talk to your doctor about your ability to conceive. They can walk you through your options and advise you on your next steps.
What’s the outlook?
If treated early, infectious oophoritis can be cleared and conception may be possible. Left untreated, oophoritis can cause severe damage to your reproductive organs. Practicing safe sex can help reduce your risk. You should also see your gynecologist for regular exams. They can watch for any changes, increasing the likelihood of early diagnosis.
Autoimmune oophoritis has no cure, but you can work with your doctor to manage your symptoms.