Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is characterized by infection of the female reproductive organs, such as the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It is mostly acquired through unsafe sexual practices and is one of the most serious consequences of sexually transmitted diseases (STD). It mostly affects sexually active women aged 15 to 24. PID can cause permanent damage to the female reproductive system, and is one of the leading causes of infertility.
Causes and risks
PID can occur when your cervix is exposed to an STD, such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea. The cervix loses its ability to protect the internal organs from bacteria and the infection eventually spreads to your uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. Ninety percent of PID occurs as a result of untreated chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Sexual practices that involve multiple partners and unprotected sex increase your chances of acquiring STDs, which can in turn lead to PID. Some of the other causes include:
- Intrauterine device (IUD) use
- Regular douching
- Previous history of PID or STD
PID can show minor symptoms or no symptoms at all (common with chlamydial infection). They can often vary, but may include:
- Dull pain in lower abdomen (tummy) and pelvis
- Green or yellow vaginal discharge, having a distinct and often unpleasant odour
- Pain during urination
- Irregular menses
- Fever or chills
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
- Pain in the lower back
- Discomfort or pain during sex that’s felt deep inside the pelvis
If you notice these symptoms, it is important to stop having intercourse and visit your doctor immediately, as prompt treatment is vital for PID.
Left untreated, PID can cause scarring and collection of abscesses (infected fluid) in the fallopian tubes. PID can also lead to infertility or ectopic pregnancy (implantation of embryo outside uterus). Scarring or damage can occur to other reproductive organs, which can cause chronic pelvic pain that can last for many months.
It’s estimated that around 1 in 10 women with PID becomes infertile as a result of the condition. Women who have had delayed treatment or had repeated episodes of PID are most at risk. However, most women treated for PID are still able to get pregnant without any problems.
Based on your signs and symptoms, your doctor may perform a pelvic examination, obtain a sample your vaginal discharge, and perform cervical cultures and urine tests. Samples may be obtained from your cervix and vagina using a cotton swab, and sent to the laboratory to identify the bacteria causing the infection.Your doctor may also recommend the following tests to confirm and determine the extent of your infection.
- Blood tests
- Pelvic ultrasound, where sound waves are used to relay images of your reproductive organs
- Endometrial biopsy
- Laparoscopy, where a thin lighted tube with a camera is inserted through a small cut in your abdomen to examine your pelvic organs
Confirmation of PID will be immediately followed by treatment. You will be started on oral antibiotic medications for mild cases of PID. For more severe cases, you may be treated on a combination of oral and intravenous medications, or hospitalized for more aggressive management. It is important that your partner also get treated even if he does not have any symptoms, in order to prevent future recurrence of the infection.
Prevention is the best way to deal with PID.
- Avoid unsafe sexual practices, multiple partners, and use barrier methods such as condoms and spermicides.
- Avoid IUD if you have multiple partners.
- Watch for symptoms and be prompt to get treatment.
- Have regular follow up with your doctor, as infections identified during the early stages can be prevented from spreading to your reproductive organs.
- Avoid douching, as douching disturbs the fragile balance of bacteria in your vagina, mask your vaginal discharge, and push the bacteria up into the genital tract.