Many women face the possibility of having a reproductive disease/problems at some point in their lifetime. For some they’ve had issues their whole lives, for others problems develop suddenly with little or no warning. Some of the reproductive diseases that women can face are well known while others are not very well known and often get missed or misdiagnosed until it is either too late for treatment or the woman is physically and mentally/emotionally crippled by the pain.
This blog post series is inspired by my own recent experience of facing a potential diagnosis of either Endometriosis, which is what I was officially diagnosed with after a minor laparoscopic surgery and I already had a rudimentary knowledge of endometriosis as my mother has it as well, or Ovarian Cancer, which I knew pretty much nothing about let alone what the most common symptoms were until I faced the possibility of having it and began researching everything I could about ovarian cancer, so we are going to have a look at some of the most common reproductive diseases and problems that we as women can potentially face including endometriosis and ovarian cancer. I must stress right now that not everyone will develop one of these diseases/problems and this is not intended as a diagnostic or medical tool, this post is meant to provide awareness as it is always a good idea to know the signs and symptoms that can point to there being a problem so that you can find the best care provider possible for your particular circumstances.
The diseases we will be looking at in this blog post series are as follows:
- Ovarian Cancer
- Cervical Cancer
- Uterine Cancer
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Pelvic inflammatory disease is a common condition that affects approximately 1 in 8 women during the lifetimes and is most common in young women who are sexually active between the ages 20-24.
10,000 or so women in Australia are hospitalised for pelvic Inflammatory disease each year, and approximately 59,000-60,000 are treated for it by their family doctor.
So What Is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)?
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection and/or inflammation of one or more pelvic organs in a woman – the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and/or ovaries. The infection is commonly a sexually transmitted one like Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea, which can be transferred via unprotected sex with an affected person, but it can also develop after a surgery, childbirth, miscarriage, insertion of an intrauterine birth control device, D&C or termination of pregnancy.
If left untreated PID can damage your reproductive organs causing the development of scar tissue, chronic pelvic pain, abscesses on the ovaries and/or fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, so early treatment is important although it is made difficult as clinical presentation differs greatly and many doctors don’t have much experience in recognising the symptoms or just simply don’t realise that the symptoms being displayed by a patient have been caused by pelvic inflammatory disease*.
*If you’ve ever been fobbed off by a doctor for really bad period pain or abnormal mid-cycle pelvic pain you’ll know how difficult it can sometimes be to get a correct diagnosis for a genuine pelvic and/or gynaecological issue, many women all around the world, every single day, are told that their pelvic pain is “all in your head” and are recommended by their doctor to see a psychologist or counsellor.
Signs and Symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- Pelvic and/or lower abdominal pain and/or tenderness
- Lower back pain
- Abnormal menstrual periods
- Changes in the amount, colour of and/or smell of vaginal discharge
- Deep pain during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after sex
- Increased period pain
- Painful urination
Diagnosis and Treatment of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Diagnosis can be difficult as symptoms can often be mild, absent or applicable to many other conditions that aren’t PID. Vaginal and cervical swabs are normally taken for testing in order to test for the presence of bacteria however if the bacteria is only in the pelvic cavity and is not present in the vagina or cervix this can result in a false negative result on tests. Urine is often tested for the presence of the Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea bacteria. A pelvic exam and other tests may also be required, especially if there are no physical symptoms (asymptomatic).
A pelvic ultrasound can used to assess the size of the fallopian tubes and may show if there is any scar tissue present in the pelvic area.
Sometimes a laparoscopy (keyhole surgery where small camera’s are inserted into the abdomen to see what is going on inside) may be necessary to get a definitive diagnosis, a small sample of fluid and/or tissue of suspect areas can then be obtained and sent to pathology to see if there is any type of infection present.
Treatment consists of a course of antibiotics. The longer that a woman remains untreated increases her chances of having a future ectopic pregnancy and/or infertility because of damage to the fallopian tubes.
Completing the entire course of antibiotics is important as stopping before the end of the prescribed course can result in the infection not being completely eradicated and coming back (even if symptoms have ceased please do continue to take the antibiotics). Temporary abstinence until the treatment period has been completed is also advised.
If your PID was caused by a sexually transmitted disease (eg Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea) it is recommended that you contact past sexual partners so that they can be tested and also treated if necessary as men often show little or no symptoms when they are infected.
Some women may need to be hospitalised for IV antibiotic treatment, especially pregnant women, as IV antibiotics are generally considered to be safer to use during pregnancy.
Unfortunately any damage that has already occurred cannot be reversed or healed, however surgery can be done to remove scar tissue (this has the risk of more scar tissue forming post surgery) from the fallopian tubes and may be able help correct some of the damage done to the fallopian tubes.
When do I seek Help?
Please see your doctor or go to your local emergency department ASAP if you experience any of the following:
- Severe pain low in your abdomen/in your pelvis
- Nausea/vomiting and unable to keep anything down
- A high fever (temperature higher than 38.3 C)
- Foul vaginal discharge