AS Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) Awareness Month winds down, we shine the spotlight on an infection that affects many women — pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Though this infection is not sexually transmitted, PID is most commonly caused by STIs.
Many women suffer from this condition unknowingly, and it is usually discovered during examination for another condition, or when they are having difficulty getting pregnant. Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Jordan Hardie explains:
“Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of the female upper genital tract. This includes the uterus, Fallopian tubes and ovaries,” Dr Hardie tells All Woman. “The most common cause of PID is a sexually transmitted infection, with the most common organisms being chlamydia and gonorrhoea.”
The symptoms of PID, Dr Hardie points out, can be easily mistaken for other illnesses, or even menstrual symptoms.
“Symptoms associated with PID may include abdominal or pelvic pain, a vaginal discharge, or a fever. These can range from mild to severe. Many patients with PID, however, may be asymptomatic,” he says.
Irregular vaginal bleeding, especially during or after intercourse, and frequent, painful urination, can also be signs of PID.
Diagnosis of PID, therefore, can sometimes be a bit tricky.
“Diagnosis is most commonly based on history and clinical examination, in combination with screening for a sexual transmitted infection,” Dr Hardie notes. “However, patients with chronic pelvic inflammatory disease may not have a positive test for an active sexually transmitted infection.”
Less commonly, PID can also be caused by bacteria that enters the uterus by non-sexual means. This is most likely to happen when the cervix is opened to allow for passage of an object such as during childbirth, an abortion, or very rarely, the insertion of an interuterine contraceptive device.
The doctor shares that once diagnosed, PID is usually treated with antibiotics. “Patients with severe infections may require hospital admission and surgery to remove a tubo-ovarian abscess (a pocket of pus).”
If left untreated, severe PID can significantly reduce a woman's quality of life and ability to reproduce.
“Complications of PID include infertility, chronic pelvic pain, recurrent vaginal discharge and risk of developing an ectopic pregnancy,” Dr Hardie says.