The infectious disease known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) affects millions of women in the United States every year. While the condition is quite easy to treat, it’s very difficult to diagnose. That means that many cases go undetected by physicians, leading to some unpleasant and even long-term complications.
Some women may be afraid to seek treatment, since they assume that PID is caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) and they are embarrassed to be associated with something they feel is, well, unsavory. It’s true that the cause of PID is often an STD, but by no means is this always the cause of infection. In fact, PID can be contracted by someone who is not even sexually active. All women should become familiar with the signs and symptoms of PID and be aware of available diagnostic and treatment options. It’s also important for a woman to learn about the long-term effects of the condition and how PID might be prevented.
PID is the term used to connote a specific combination of symptoms that occur due to an infection of the internal female reproductive organs, such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or uterus. What happens is that bacteria travel into the vagina, up through the cervix, and then on into the uterus. Once the infection enters the uterus, it stays there or as is more often the case, continues its upward journey into the fallopian tubes.
When the infection is confined to the tubes, this is called “salpingitis.” Salpingitis and PID are terms that are used interchangeably though salpingitis refers to infection that is specific to the tubes and PID may affect other female reproductive organs. The fallopian tubes are very delicate and can be damaged with ease by a bacterial infection.
Sometimes the infection spreads from the tubes on into the abdominal cavity. This is called “peritonitis.” The bacteria that are the cause of PID can infect and damage any organ with which they come in contact. However, the tubes are so fragile that they are the most common area of damage in a case of PID.
PID can be caused by any of several types of common bacteria. But the most common culprits that cause PID are the organisms known as chlamydia and gonorrhea, both of which are sexually transmitted. However, it is important to stress that PID is not a venereal disease and may well be caused by bacteria which are not sexually transmitted. In some cases, gynecological surgeries may cause the spread of normal vaginal bacteria into the uterus, where they may cause PID.
The only way to determine the type of bacteria that is causing PID is to culture the fallopian tubes. But this is a tricky process, so most physicians skip this step and prescribe instead a very broad-spectrum antibiotic that will cover every possible organism.