Diagnostic Tests for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Diagnostic Test list for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: The list of diagnostic tests mentioned in various sources as used in the diagnosis of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease includes:
- Physical exam
- Test for vaginal discharge
- Test for cervical discharge
- Culture of discharge to identify bacteria
- Endometrial biopsy
Tests and diagnosis discussion for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: PID is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are often subtle and mild. Many episodes of PID go undetected because the woman or her health care provider fails to recognize the implications of mild or nonspecific symptoms. Because there are no precise tests for PID, a diagnosis is usually based on clinical findings. If symptoms such as lower abdominal pain are present, a health care provider should perform a physical examination to determine the nature and location of the pain and check for fever, abnormal vaginal or cervical discharge, and for evidence of gonorrhea or chlamydia infection. If the findings suggest PID, treatment is necessary.
If more information is necessary, the health care provider may order other tests to identify the infection-causing organism or to distinguish between PID and other problems with similar symptoms. A pelvic ultrasound is a procedure that may be helpful in evaluating someone for PID. An ultrasound can view the pelvic area to see whether the fallopian tubes are enlarged or whether an abscess is present. In some cases, a laparoscopy may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. A laparoscopy is a minor surgical procedure in which a thin, flexible tube with a lighted end (laparoscope) is inserted through a small incision in the lower abdomen. This procedure enables the doctor to view the internal pelvic organs and to take specimens for laboratory studies, if needed.1
PID can be difficult to diagnose. If symptoms such as lower abdominal pain are present, the doctor will perform a physical exam to determine the nature and location of the pain. The doctor also should check the patient for fever, abnormal vaginal or cervical discharge, and evidence of cervical chlamydial infection or gonorrhea. If the findings of this exam suggest that PID is likely, current guidelines advise doctors to begin treatment.
If more information is necessary, the doctor may order other tests, such as a sonogram, endometrial biopsy, or laparoscopy to distinguish between PID and other serious problems that may mimic PID. Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure in which a tiny, flexible tube with a lighted end is inserted through a small incision just below the navel. This procedure allows the doctor to view the internal abdominal and pelvic organs, as well as take specimens for cultures or microscopic studies, if necessary.
Because culture of specimens from the upper genital tract are difficult to obtain and because multiple organisms may be responsible for an episode of PID, especially if it is not the first one, the doctor will prescribe at least two antibiotics that are effective against a wide range of infectious agents. The symptoms may go away before the infection is cured. Even if symptoms do go away, patients should finish taking all of the medicine. Patients should be re-evaluated by their physicians two to three days after treatment is begun to be sure the antibiotics are working to cure the infection.
About one-fourth of women with suspected PID must be hospitalized. The doctor may recommend this if the patient is severely ill; if she cannot take oral medication and needs intravenous antibiotics; if she is pregnant or is an adolescent; if the diagnosis is uncertain and may include an abdominal emergency such as appendicitis; or if she is infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that causes AIDS).
Many women with PID have sex partners who have no symptoms, although their sex partners may be infected with organisms that can cause PID. Because of the risk of reinfection, however, sex partners should be treated even if they do not have symptoms.
Consequences of PID
Women with recurrent episodes of PID are more likely than women with a single episode to suffer scarring of the tubes that leads to infertility, tubal pregnancy, or chronic pelvic pain. Infertility occurs in approximately 20 percent of women who have had PID.
Most women with tubal infertility, however, never have had symptoms of PID. Organisms such as C. trachomatis can silently invade the fallopian tubes and cause scarring, which blocks the normal passage of eggs into the uterus.
A women who has had PID has a six-to-tenfold increased risk of tubal pregnancy, in which the egg can become fertilized but cannot pass into the uterus to grow. Instead, the egg usually attaches in the fallopian tube, which connects the ovary to the uterus. The fertilized egg cannot grow normally in the fallopian tube. This type of pregnancy is life-threatening to the mother, and almost always fatal to her fetus. It is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death in African-American women.
In addition, untreated PID can cause chronic pelvic pain and scarring in about 20 percent of patients. These conditions are difficult to treat but are sometimes improved with surgery.
Another complication of PID is the risk of repeated attacks of PID. As many as one-third of women who have had PID will have the disease at least one more time. With each episode of reinfection, the risk of infertility is increased.
Women can play an active role in protecting themselves from PID by taking the following steps:
- Signs of discharge with odor or bleeding between cycles could mean infection. Early treatment may prevent the development of PID.
- If used correctly and consistently, male latex condoms will prevent transmission of gonorrhea and partially protect against chlamydial infection.
Although much has been learned about the biology of the microbes that cause PID and the ways in which they damage the body, there is still much to learn. Scientists supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are studying the effects of antibiotics, hormones, and substances that boost the immune system. These studies may lead to insights about how to prevent infertility or other complications of PID. Topical microbicides and vaccines to prevent gonorrhea and chlamydial infection also are being developed. Clinical trials are in progress to test a suppository containing lactobacilli – the normal bacteria found in the vaginas of healthy women. These bacteria colonize the vagina and may be associated with reduced risk of gonorrhea and bacterial vaginosis, both of which can cause PID.
Rapid, inexpensive, easy-to-use diagnostic tests are being developed to detect chlamydial infection and gonorrhea. A recent study conducted by NIAID-funded researchers demonstrated that screening and treating women who unknowingly had chlamydial infection reduced cases of PID by more than 60 percent. Meanwhile, researchers continue to search for better ways to detect PID itself, particularly in women with "silent" or asymptomatic PID.
1. excerpt from PID: DSTD
2. excerpt from Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, NIAID Fact Sheet: NIAID
Last revision: June 10, 2003
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