As women, we are used to the cyclical changes of our periods and vaginal discharge. When we experience a “little” bleeding during sex or our discharge is a little heavier than usual, we generally chalk it up to being related “that time of the month” and don’t give it another thought. But, if you find that your periods have consistently become longer, heavier, more painful, or your vaginal discharge smells a little “off” you shouldn’t ignore these signs. What you could be experiencing is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which affects about 5 percent of women in the United States. Oftentimes this infection goes untreated which can hurt your chances of conception as 1 in 8 women with a history of PID experiences some difficulty getting pregnant.
Causes of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of your reproductive organs. It is often experienced as result of having an untreated sexually transmitted disease (STD) such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. Other times normal bacteria found in your vagina can spread to your uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries causing PID. The onset of this infection is not the same for any two women. Some women experience PID symptoms within a few days after being infected while it may take others a few months to develop any symptoms.
Douching and PID
Do you douche? Please stop. Although there have been conflicting opinions on this practice for at least 100 years, experts believe that douching may cause the bacteria found in your vagina to travel up your genital tract causing infection. In fact, The American Sexual Health Association found that women who douched one to two times a month were more likely to develop PID when compared to women who douched less than once a month. Douching may mask the symptoms of infection which means delayed treatment and care.
PID and IUD
There is a lot of conflicting information related to intrauterine devices (IUD) and PID. Yes, back in the 70’s a poorly designed IUD caused many women to develop infections. Yes, research that shows that there is a slightly increased risk for PID infection up to 20 days after an IUD is placed but the risk is really low and this generally only happens if you had an STD you didn’t know about when your IUD was inserted. You’ll appreciate the fact that modern IUDs such as the hormone-based Mirena and the copper IUD (Paraguard) does not increase your risk for PID. In fact there is some evidence that suggest that the Mirena may actually provide long-term protection against this infection.
Let’s be honest, a lack of symptoms or only experiencing mild symptoms of discomfort is not enough to send you running to your doctor’s office but with this infection, things can get pretty bad rather quickly so recognizing its signs and symptoms can save you from an overnight hospital stay.
Symptoms may include:
- Longer, heavier, or more painful periods
- Bleeding between periods
- Pain in your lower abdomen
- Pain and/or bleeding during sex
- Foul smelling vaginal discharge
- Fever or chills
- A burning feeling when you urinate.
Listen, if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider right away. During your visit they will review your health history, order tests, check out your “lady parts” and send you home with a much-needed prescription.
A PID infection can become quite painful and can cause serious health problems if it’s not treated. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to help fight the infection. Even though you may be tempted to stop taking your medicine when your symptoms disappear; keep taking them!!! It’s important to finish all of your pills to make sure the medicine has killed off the “bad” the bacteria. Also, you’ll have to tell bae about your infection so he can also be tested and treated for STD’s. Please make sure that you and your partner finish taking all of your medicine before you have sex again. You really don’t want to pass the infection back and forth, do you?
Honestly, you can easily reduce your risk for PID by practicing safe sex. Use a latex condom each and every time you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Consistent and correct use of condoms reduces your risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Real talk, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are responsible for more than half to three-quarters of PID infections so getting tested for STD should be a regular part of your self-care routine. If you do find out you have an infection, start your treatment right away to prevent it from spreading. You can also take this opportunity to have an open and honest discussion about your results with your partner.
PID and Fertility
Ladies, timely PID treatment is crucial to prevent permanent damage to your reproductive organs. Pelvic inflammatory disease can cause scar tissue in your fallopian tubes and increase your risk of infertility, chronic pelvic pain, and ectopic pregnancy. Even though PID is easily treatable, the antibiotics may not be able to undo any damage caused by the infection.
Protect Your Fertility
Pelvic inflammatory disease is a serious health condition with long-lasting effects. By practicing safe sex and being tested for sexually transmitted diseases regularly, you can help to preserve your fertility until the day you’re ready for sperm to meet egg.