Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of any of a woman's pelvic organs, including the uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes, or the peritoneum, the membrane covering the abdominal cavity. One million women are diagnosed with PID annually in the United States. Acute PID comes on suddenly and tends to be more severe, whereas chronic PID is a low-grade infection that may cause only mild pain and sometimes backache. If not treated promptly, PID can result in infertility and, in rare cases, death.
Signs and SymptomsAcute PID is accompanied by the following signs and symptoms.
- Severe pain and tenderness in lower abdomen
- Vaginal discharge
- Mild, recurrent pain in lower abdomen
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Pain during intercourse
- Heavy, unpleasant-smelling vaginal discharge
What Causes It?PID occurs when bacteria from the vagina or cervix infiltrate the normally sterile pelvic organs.
Who's Most At Risk?People with the following conditions or characteristics are at risk for developing PID.
- Frequent sexual encounters, many partners
- History of sexually transmitted diseases or previous history of PID
- Young age (14 to 25 years old), particularly early age at first intercourse
What to Expect at Your Provider's OfficeIf you are experiencing symptoms associated with PID, you should see your health care provider. A combination of a physical exam, lab tests, imaging, and other procedures are used to make a diagnosis.
PreventionBarrier methods of birth control (condoms, diaphragms, vaginal spermicides) reduce the risk of PID. Rapid diagnosis and effective treatment of lower urinary tract infections can help prevent PID from developing. Experts recommend routine screening for infections in high-risk individuals.
Treatment PlanYour health care provider may recommend hospitalization or outpatient treatment with follow-up. Outpatient therapy consists of rest and medications.
Drug TherapiesYour provider may prescribe the following antibiotics or combination of drugs.
Surgical and Other ProceduresSome conditions, such as an abscess in the ovary or fallopian tube, may make surgery necessary.
Complementary and Alternative TherapiesA comprehensive treatment plan for PID may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies.
- Eat whole foods such as fresh vegetables, whole grains, and essential fatty acids (nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish)
- Avoid sugar, refined foods, and saturated fats (animal products, especially dairy)
- Vitamin C (1,000 mg three to four times per day), zinc (30 mg per day), selenium (200 mcg per day), vitamin E (400 IU per day), B-complex (50 to 100 mg, especially folic acid 800 mcg per day), and vitamin A (25,000 IU one to two times per day) or beta carotene (50,000 IU one to two times per day)
- Bromelain (500 mg three times per day between meals)
- Anti-inflammatory oils (for example, flax, borage, evening primrose) 1,500 mg two to three times per day
- Acidophilus (one capsule with meals)
Herbal remedies may offer relief from symptoms. Herbs are generally available as dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, or tinctures (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Dose for teas is 1 heaping tsp. per cup of water steeped for 10 minutes (roots need 20 minutes).
- For acute infection, combine half parts of yarrow (Achillea millefolium), pasque flower (Pulsatilla pratensis), marigold (Calendula officinalis), and poke root (Phytolacca americana) with one part each of coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis). Take 30 to 60 drops tincture every two to four hours. Use caution with poke root.
- For chronic infection, combine equal parts of coneflower, goldenseal, licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), myrrh gum (Commiphora molmol), wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), and red root (Ceonothus americanus). Take 30 drops tincture two to three times per day.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa, 500 mg three times per day). Use with bromelain to enhance anti-inflammatory effects.
Place a castor oil pack on the abdomen to reduce inflammation. Saturate a cloth with castor oil and apply directly to the skin, placing a heat source, such as a hot water bottle, on top. Leave in place for 30 minutes or more. Use for three to four consecutive days per week. Packs may be used daily.
Acupuncture may help enhance immune function and reduce pain and inflammation, especially with chronic PID.
Prognosis/Possible ComplicationsIn 85 percent of cases, the initial treatment succeeds, and in 75 percent of cases, patients do not experience a recurrence of the infection. However, when there is a recurrence, the likelihood of infertility increases with each episode of PID. Potential complications from PID include a tubo-ovarian abscess; fallopian tube obstruction, which can result in ectopic pregnancy or infertility; chronic pelvic pain; and sexual dysfunction.
Following UpYour health care provider will schedule a follow-up visit 48 to 72 hours after treatment is started. If you are diagnosed with PID, you should inform any sexual partners so that they can be examined and treated if the infection has been transmitted.
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