Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is a serious condition that affects countless women each year. The rate of PID is highest among teens and each year more than 100,000 women become infertile as a result of leaving PID untreated. Almost 15 percent of women will suffer with PID at some point in their lives and it is thought that a large portion of the more than 700,000 ectopic pregnancies each year are a result of PID. The good news is that PID is easily treated.
What Is It?
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs. It is typically the result of a sexually transmitted disease, though there are other causes, and occurs when bacteria spread from the vagina to the rest of the reproductive system. It can cause pain, although some women experience no pain at all. If left untreated, it can result in infertility. Some women are unaware that they have PID until they develop chronic pain or experience difficulties getting pregnant. If left untreated, abscess can form in the reproductive organs. These can be very painful and even life threatening if they rupture.
Causes And Risk Factors
The cause of pelvic inflammatory disease is a bacterial infection. The bacteria can come from a number of sources, but it most often comes from a sexually transmitted disease, like gonorrhea or chlamydia. In fact, sexually transmitted diseases cause 90 percent of all cases of PID. Though STDs are by far the most common cause, it is not the only cause of PID.
- The use of an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control does present an increased risk for PID. The implantation of an IUD can allow for bacteria to enter the reproductive organs and cause PID.
- Childbirth, miscarriage or abortion can also cause PID. The changes that occur during these events make it easier for bacteria to enter the reproductive organs through the cervix.
- An endometrial biopsy, which removes a piece of the uterine lining for laboratory testing, can also introduce bacteria into the uterus where it can then travel to fallopian tubes or ovaries.
Those most at risk of contracting pelvic inflammatory disease are:
- Sexually active women under 25 years of age.
- Having multiple sexual partners.
- Being involved with someone who has multiple sexual partners.
- Having an IUD inserted in the recent past.
- Douching frequently. This disrupts the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina and can allow bad bacteria to grow, which than then infect the higher reproductive tract and organs.
- Having a history of STDs or PID.
Some women with pelvic inflammatory disease may experience very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. This can make treating the infection difficult. If a woman does experience any symptoms at all they can often be ambiguous.
These symptoms include:
- Pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis
- Pain in the lower back
- Odor and heavy discharge from the vagina
- Bleeding between periods or irregular periods
- Painful intercourse
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Painful or difficult urination.
If a woman experiences severe pain in the lower abdomen, a high fever (over 101⁰ F), signs of shock, such as fainting or excessive vomiting, should go to the emergency room immediately as this could be the sign of something very serious.
Fortunately, treatment of pelvic inflammatory disease is relatively simple, provided the infection is caught early. If the infection progresses, other treatments may be required.
- Antibiotics are the most commonly used form of treatment for PID. A doctor may prescribe multiple antibiotics to treat PID until the actual bacteria that caused the infection is identified. The medications may then be adjusted. If the cause of PID is a sexually transmitted disease, then the woman’s partner needs to be tested and treated as well. Partners should abstain from sex until the infection is cleared.
- In some situations, hospitalization with intravenous antibiotics may be required. This is usually what happens if a woman is pregnant, HIV-positive or does not respond to oral antibiotics.
- In more severe cases of PID abscesses may develop. If this happens, a doctor may need to drain the abscesses, and this will require surgery. This is a last resort because of the risks associated with surgery.
Because 90 percent of PID is caused by sexually transmitted infections, safe sex practices can virtually eliminate the risk of contracting this condition. Prevention includes:
- Using a condom each time a person has sex unless involved in a long term, mutually monogamous relationship.
- Get tested for STDs regularly.
- Have partner get tested for STDs regularly.
- Don’t douche frequently.
- Practice good personal hygiene.
Pelvic inflammatory disease can be devastating and have long term damaging effects. But by being responsible about sexual activity and paying attention to one’s body, the risk of contracting PID is very low and the long term effects can be minimized.