Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease is diagnosed and treated by Premier Medical Group.

What is pelvic inflammatory disease?

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Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of the female reproductive organs, including the fallopian tubes, cervix, ovaries, and uterus. While sexually transmitted infections, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, are the most common cause of pelvic inflammatory disease, people can develop the condition without ever having an STI. Having unprotected sex, douching, and having a history of pelvic inflammatory disease heighten a person’s risk for contracting the infection.

Left untreated, pelvic inflammatory disease can cause chronic pelvic pain, fertility issues, and possibly life-threatening conditions if the infection spreads to the blood. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, around 5 percent of people with female reproductive organs have the condition, making it a relatively common infection.

What causes pelvic inflammatory disease?

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Pelvic inflammatory disease is caused by bacteria, which is often sexually transmitted. This bacteria spreads from the vagina to the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. There are many types of bacteria that can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, but chlamydia, gonorrhea, and bacterial vaginosis infections are the most common. While significantly less common, bacteria can enter the female reproductive tract any time the cervix is disturbed, such as after childbirth, abortion, miscarriage, IUD insertion, or douching.

Pelvic inflammatory disease is a common infection with more than one million people developing the condition every year.

What are the symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease?

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Pelvic inflammatory disease often has no signs or symptoms. This means people may not realize they have the condition until later in life, when they may develop chronic pelvic pain or have trouble getting pregnant. However, when severe, the infection may cause one of more of the following:

  • Heavy and odorous vaginal discharge
  • Pain or bleeding during sex
  • Pain in the lower abdomen and/or pelvis
  • Abnormal uterine bleeding between menstrual cycles
  • Painful or difficult urination
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever

Left untreated, pelvic inflammatory disease can cause a range of complications. Infertility and chronic pelvic pain are the most common, but some people may also develop a tubo-ovarian abscess, which can become life-threatening. Ectopic pregnancies may also occur when scar tissue from pelvic inflammatory disease prevents a fertilized egg from moving from through the fallopian tube to implant in the uterus.

Because pelvic inflammatory disease has few signs or symptoms, regular STI testing is the best form of prevention, even if a person is not sexually active.

How is pelvic inflammatory disease diagnosed?

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A doctor will diagnose pelvic inflammatory disease using a range of techniques, including a pelvic exam, a discussion of your symptoms, urine tests, and/or an analysis of vaginal discharge or a cervical culture. A Pap smear may be taken to collect cervical cells, which will then be tested for present bacteria.

Other tests may be recommended to confirm the diagnosis or understand the infection’s spread. This can include blood and urine tests, which will measure white blood cell count, an ultrasound, which can create images of reproductive organs, and/or laparoscopy, wherein the doctor will insert a thin instrument through an incision to view the pelvic organs.

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If pelvic inflammatory disease is diagnosed early, it is easily cured. Standard treatment for the infection includes an antibiotics course. In most cases, a doctor will prescribe a combination of antibiotics, then adjust the prescription to better match the infection’s cause once lab test results are confirmed. As with all antibiotic treatments, be sure to complete the medication, even if you start to feel better.

Additionally, any sexual partners should be examined and treated accordingly. Infected partners may not have any noticeable symptoms, but they should schedule an appointment to prevent possible reinfection. Any infected person should avoid sexual activity until treatment is completed.

If a person with pelvic inflammatory disease is pregnant, very sick, or has not responded to oral medications, hospitalization may be necessary to assist with intravenous antibiotic treatment. In the most severe cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to drain ruptured abscesses.

When to see a doctor for pelvic inflammatory disease?

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Only a doctor can provide the treatment necessary to cure pelvic inflammatory disease, so it is important to see a physician or clinician if you suspect pelvic inflammatory disease. Furthermore, many symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease are similar to other conditions and sexually transmitted infections. A doctor has the diagnostic tools to determine the cause of your symptoms and course of treatment.

If you experience any of the following, seek urgent medical care. These symptoms may indicate pelvic inflammatory disease, but they can also point to other, possibly harmful conditions.

  • Abnormal and odorous vaginal discharge
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Fever with a temperature higher than 101 F
  • Nausea and vomiting