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What Is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs. The infection spreads up through the cervix (opening of the uterus), into the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and lowest part of the abdomen (belly, pelvic area). Infection tends to spread most easily during menses.

When PID is diagnosed and treated early usually there are no long-term complications. However, PID can scar fallopian tubes and ovaries, making it hard to get pregnant or causing an ectopic pregnancy (fetus grows in a fallopian tube).

What Causes PID?

The cause is usually having sex with a person infected with gonorrhea or chlamydia, or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Chances of getting PID increase with a new sexual partner, or more than one partner, and using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control.

What Are the Symptoms of PID?

The most common symptoms are pelvic pain, with or without fever and increased vaginal discharge.

How Is PID Diagnosed?

The health care provider makes a diagnosis from symptoms plus a physical and pelvic examination and laboratory tests. Blood tests will show if an infection is present. In premenopausal women, a pregnancy test should be done before starting treatment. Sometimes, symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy are the same as PID symptoms, and the health care provider needs to know which is causing symptoms. Other tests to check for infection include a culture from the cervix. For a culture, the cervix is swabbed, as for a Pap smear, and tested.

Imaging tests may also be done to get pictures of inside the body and exclude other medical disorders causing similar symptoms. These tests include ultrasonography (uses sound waves), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT).

How Is PID Treated?

Early treatment is best, before the infection spreads.

The health care provider may prescribe a combination of antibiotics given by injection and taken by mouth (oral), or just oral antibiotic. Severe infections may first need a hospital stay and antibiotics given intravenously.

If there is a pocket of pus around a fallopian tube or an ovary that doesn’t get better with antibiotics, the doctor may operate (usually laparoscopic surgery) to drain the pus. Laparoscopic surgery is done through a special lighted tube put into a small cut in the belly.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing PID:

  • DO take all antibiotics as directed.
  • DO have your sexual partner get treatment so you don’t infect each other.
  • DO call your health care provider if your symptoms aren’t better in 48 hours or symptoms worsen even with treatment, for example, if fever is higher or pelvic pain is worse.
  • DO call your health care provider if you cannot tolerate the antibiotic (e.g., you throw up afterward).
  • DO call your health care provider if you think that you’re allergic to the medicine.
  • DON’T have unprotected sex. Use condoms for protection against STDs.
  • DON’T have sex until symptoms are gone completely or until your health care provider says you can.

Contact the following sources:

  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
    Tel: (866) 284-4107
  • American Academy of Family Physicians
    Tel: (800) 274-2237
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
    Tel: (202) 638-5577

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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