What is pelvic inflammatory disease?
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the upper reproductive organs in women. It usually begins as an infection of the cervix, which then spreads up into the uterus and fallopian tubes. The infection can spread beyond the reproductive organs into the tissues surrounding them. Many organisms can cause PID, including some that also cause sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
How is it spread?
PID is mostly caused by sexually transmitted infections and usually affects younger women. Factors that increase your risk of getting PID include having:
- unprotected sex with someone with an STI such as chlamydia or gonorrhea;
- previously had a PID infection;
- a new sex partner or more than 2 sex partners in the past 6 months;
- an infection like Bacterial Vaginosis;
- medical procedures that open the your cervix such as abortion, Dilation Curettage, or having an intrauterine device inserted; or
What are the symptoms?
Women who have PID often do not have any symptoms, and do not know they have it. However, when present, the most common symptoms are:
- constant, dull pain or pressure in the lower belly that may get worse during bowel movements, urination, or sexual activity;
- abnormal vaginal bleeding;
- lower back pain; or
- nausea and vomiting.
Sometimes PID is only noticed during a pelvic exam. To find out if you have PID, you need to be examined by a health care provider. Lab tests will be done to identify the bacteria that have caused the infection.
What are the complications?
The main complications from PID include:
- severe pain that can only be effectively treated in the hospital;
- long lasting or chronic pelvic pain;
- infertility; and
- an increased chance of an ectopic pregnancy, which is when a fertilized egg attaches to the fallopian tube or any other area outside of the uterus.
The likelihood of having a complication from PID increases each time a woman has a pelvic infection.
What is the treatment for PID?
The usual treatment for PID is antibiotic pills. If you are treated early in the infection, you are less likely to have complications. In some cases, PID may be severe enough that you need to be admitted to the hospital for intravenous antibiotic treatment.
Important directions for treatment:
- You must take all of your medication(s) as directed.
- You should rest for 1 to 3 days – or until there is much less pain.
- You should return to your health care provider in 2 to 3 days after starting treatment, and again 4 to 7 days after finishing your treatment to ensure the infection has stopped completely.
- All of your sexual partners in the past 60 days should be tested and treated as well.
- You should not have sexual intercourse until you have finished taking all of your medication and your sexual partners have been treated.
Will birth control pills still work?
Birth control pills may not work very well when you are taking some antibiotics. Keep taking your birth control pills while taking any medication but also use a second form of birth control, such as a condom, until your next period after completing the antibiotics.
How can I reduce my chance of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
Practice safe sex by using a condom
When used as directed, male and female condoms help prevent the spread of many STIs, including HIV, during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Condoms are less effective at protecting against STIs transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes simplex, genital warts (human papillomavirus or HPV), and syphilis.
Important things to remember when using condoms:
- Check the condom package for damage and to ensure the expiry date has not passed.
- Carefully open the package so that the condom does not tear.
- Keep condoms away from sharp objects such as rings, studs, or piercings.
- Store condoms at room temperature.
- A new condom should be used every time you have sex.
- Use only water-based lubricants with male latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, lotion, or baby oil can weaken and destroy latex.
- Avoid using spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 (N-9). It irritates sexual tissue and may increase the chance of getting an STI.
Some STIs, such as hepatitis A, B and human papillomavirus (HPV) can be prevented with vaccines. Talk to your health care provider about how to get these vaccinations.
Know your sexual health status
If you have recently changed sexual partners, or have multiple sex partners, getting regularly tested for STIs will tell you if you have an infection. Finding and treating an STI, (including HIV) reduces the chances of passing the infection on to your partner.
The more partners you have, the more likely you are to be exposed to a sexually transmitted infection.
Talk about prevention
Talk to your partner about STIs and how you would like to prevent them before having sex. If you are having trouble discussing safer sex with your partner, talk about it with your health care provider or a counselor.
For tips on how to talk to your partner, visit the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) SmartSexResource at http://smartsexresource.com/sex-talk/talk-about-it.
If you have a sexually transmitted infection and are sexually active, it is important to tell your sexual partners. This will enable them to make decisions about their health and getting tested.
For More Information
For more information on how you can reduce your chance of getting an STI, see HealthLinkBC File #08o Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).