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What Is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease? Diagnosis, Causes, and Treatment

If you’ve ever heard the term PID before, you may be wondering, “What is pelvic inflammatory disease?” 

A woman’s reproductive organs—the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and cervix—can be vulnerable to bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause infection. When infection occurs, professionals call this pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can also develop as a complication of some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. 

Left untreated, PID can lead to many complications. If you suspect you have PID, take a look at the following symptoms, and talk to your doctor about getting a diagnosis.

What Are the Symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?

Not all women experience the same symptoms of PID. Keep reading to learn about the most common symptoms of PID.

Abdominal and Pelvic Pain in Women

Pelvic pain in women occurs for many reasons, but having pain in certain areas can signal PID. This includes:

  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Subtle, mild, or severe pelvic pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain while urinating (and frequent urination)

Many diseases in the reproductive tract cause similar pain symptoms, so it’s important to rule out other conditions when considering PID.

Area Tenderness

Women with PID may also experience the following discomforts:

  • Abdominal tenderness (in the belly)
  • Pelvic organ tenderness (in the vagina or genital area)
  • Uterine tenderness (in the uterus)
  • Adnexal tenderness (in the ovaries or fallopian tubes)
  • Cervical motion tenderness (in the cervix area)

Increased Vaginal Discharge

Irregular vaginal discharge in more-than-average amounts or strange colors may also signal PID. Women with this symptom may also notice an unpleasant vaginal odor.

Irregular Menstrual Bleeding

PID may also cause irregular periods. Women with PID sometimes experience heavier-than-normal periods, bleeding between periods, and bleeding after sex. 

See this article, Can Your STD Stop Your Period? for more information on irregular menstrual bleeding.

Fever and Inflammation

Fever and chills present with most infections, including PID. If you find yourself with a fever at or above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, please see a healthcare provider as soon as possible. PID also causes inflammation of reproductive areas, which may be uncomfortable or painful. 

When considering the question, “What is pelvic inflammatory disease?” you may be tempted to self-diagnose. Keep in mind that other diseases can cause these symptoms, such as infections of the urinary or gastrointestinal tracts, so talk to your doctor for a PID diagnosis.

What Are the Common Causes of PID?

The most common cause of PID is an untreated sexually transmitted infection (STI), especially chlamydia or gonorrhea. If left alone, the bacteria from these infections can spread upward through the reproductive tract, causing the infection of reproductive organs. Click here to learn about the symptoms of chlamydia.

STIs aren’t the only causes of PID. You may also develop PID after:

  • Childbirth
  • Abortion
  • IUD insertion
  • Pelvic Procedures

If you are experiencing any symptoms of PID after one of these events, talk to your doctor. 

Several risk factors can affect a woman’s likelihood of getting PID. You may be more at risk of getting PID if you:

  • Have an STI, especially chlamydia or gonorrhea
  • Have had multiple sexual partners
  • Have a sexual partner who has had multiple sexual partners
  • Are 24 years old or younger and sexually active

If you meet the above criteria, consider regular STI testing with same-day STD testing.

Is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease Serious?

One million women in the U.S. get PID every year, and although it is very treatable, PID can lead to several complications if left untreated. These possible complications include:

  • Scar tissue buildup resulting in tubal blockages (within the fallopian tubes)
  • Ectopic pregnancy (when a pregnancy occurs outside of the womb)
  • Chronic pelvic and abdominal pain (when the pain persists long-term)
  • Infertility (when a woman can no longer get pregnant) 

So, yes, PID is very serious, but you may avoid complications by getting an early diagnosis and treatment. Be sure to tell your doctor about your symptoms, even if they don’t seem severe. The longer you delay PID treatment, the more likely you will experience one or more of these complications.

How Does a Doctor Diagnose PID, and What Medication Do They Use to Treat Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?

A physician will diagnose PID through a medical and sexual history, a pelvic exam, and a vaginal culture. If the diagnosis requires other tests, they may include the following:

  • Blood test: An elevated white blood cell count indicates infection.
  • Urine test: Urinary tract infections (UTIs) get ruled out through urine tests. Doctors test for this because UTIs can also cause pelvic pain and painful urination.
  • Ultrasound: Professionals use ultrasounds to take images of the reproductive system, looking for abnormalities such as excessive scar tissue.
  • Endometrial biopsy (in some cases): Physicians may also test the woman’s endometrium, which lines the uterus. They collect a sample of this lining through an endometrial biopsy, where a doctor takes a small tissue sample in a minimally invasive procedure.
  • Laparoscopy (in some cases): Another minimally invasive surgery, a laparoscopy uses light to allow professionals a clearer look at the reproductive organs.
  • Culdocentesis (in rare cases): This procedure draws fluid from behind the vagina for testing that may help with PID diagnosis.

Professionals may also test for pregnancy and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

PID Treatment

Doctors prescribe antibiotics to treat PID. While taking these antibiotics, be sure to finish the antibiotic prescription even if you start feeling better. Abstain from sex until the infection is gone to prevent infecting your partner, who can then re-infect you. 

Medication cannot reverse reproductive damage that has already occurred, so seek early diagnosis and treatment. 

If this discussion of “What is pelvic inflammatory disease?” sounds familiar, consider a rapid STD test.

How Can You Prevent PID?

You cannot always prevent PID, but you can lower your risk of infection by being safe and smart in your sexual activity. Keep the following in mind to help you prevent PID:

  • Practice safe sex: Latex condoms prevent the spread of STIs, which are the cause of PID in 90% of cases.
  • Get tested regularly: Consider regular annual screenings for STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea, especially if you are sexually active and younger than 25.
  • Avoid douching: Douching may cause infection by forcing bacteria up the reproductive tract and removing helpful bacteria from the vagina.
  • Reduce the number of sexual partners: The more sexual partners you have, the higher your risk of contracting an STI. Women in monogamous relationships have a lower risk than women with multiple sexual partners.
  • Require partner testing: You can gain confidence in your sexual partners by having them get tested before having sex. It is always acceptable to request partner testing before any sexual contact, including oral and anal sex. Don’t let awkward conversations prevent your health and safety.
  • Don’t skip regular pelvic exams: Gynecological exams may catch signs of infection, sometimes before the infection reaches your reproductive organs.
  • Don’t ignore STI or PID symptoms: If you notice any symptoms of PID or an STI, don’t wait to talk to your doctor. PID is very treatable, but delaying treatment may cause irreversible reproductive damage.

Get Answers With Rapid STD Testing

If you are experiencing symptoms of PID, consider a comprehensive 10-panel STD test. Call us at Rapid STD Testing today at 866-872-1888.