Pelvic inflammatory disease can produce acute symptoms and result in infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain. A new review summarizes current approaches to diagnosis and treatment and the future prospects for better prevention strategies.
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection-induced inflammation of the female upper reproductive tract (the endometrium, fallopian tubes, ovaries, or pelvic peritoneum). Many women have clinically silent spread of infection to the upper genital tract, which results in subclinical pelvic inflammatory disease. Pelvic inflammatory disease is a major concern because it can result in long-term reproductive disability, including infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain.
- What organisms cause pelvic inflammatory disease and what are its clinical manifestations?
More than 85% of infections are due to sexually transmitted cervical pathogens or bacterial vaginosis-associated microbes, and approximately 15% are due to respiratory or enteric organisms that have colonized the lower genital tract. Ascending infection from the cervix is often due to sexually acquired infections with Neisseria gonorrhoeae or Chlamydia trachomatis. Acute pelvic inflammatory disease has classically been defined by the abrupt onset of severe lower abdominal pain during or shortly after menses, although it is now well recognized that both the onset and severity of symptoms can be more ill-defined and subtle. Atypical, milder clinical manifestations have become more common as rates of N. gonorrhoeae infection have fallen. The symptoms associated with acute pelvic inflammatory disease include pelvic or lower abdominal pain of varying severity, abnormal vaginal discharge, intermenstrual or postcoital bleeding, dyspareunia, and dysuria. Fever can occur, but systemic manifestations are not a prominent feature of pelvic inflammatory disease.
- What clinical, laboratory, and imaging findings support a diagnosis of pelvic inflammatory disease?
The clinical diagnosis of pelvic inflammatory disease is based on the finding of pelvic organ tenderness, as indicated by cervical motion tenderness, adnexal tenderness, or uterine compression tenderness on bimanual examination, in conjunction with signs of lower genital tract inflammation. Signs of lower genital tract inflammation include cervical mucopus, which is visible as an exudate from the endocervix or as yellow or green mucous on a cotton-tipped swab placed gently into the cervical os (positive “swab test”); cervical friability (easily induced columnar epithelial bleeding); or increased numbers of white cells observed on saline microscopic examination of vaginal secretions (wet mount). All patients with suspected pelvic inflammatory disease should undergo cervical or vaginal nucleic acid amplification tests for N. gonorrhoeae and C. trachomatis infection; if the results are positive, the probability that pelvic inflammatory disease is present increases substantially. Transvaginal ultrasonography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealing thickened, fluid-filled tubes are timely and highly specific for
salpingitis. However, the sensitivity of ultrasonography is only fair, and although MRI has high sensitivity, it is expensive and not typically available in resource-poor settings. Power Doppler studies showing increased fallopian-tube blood flow are highly suggestive of infection.
Figure 2. Diagnosis of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
Morning Report Questions
Q: How is pelvic inflammatory disease treated?
A: Most patients are successfully treated as outpatients with single-dose intramuscular ceftriaxone, cefoxitin plus probenicid, or another third-generation cephalosporin (cefotaxime or ceftizoxime), followed by oral doxycycline with or without metronidazole for 2 weeks. For hospitalized patients, therapy with cefotetan or cefoxitin (administered parenterally until 24 to 48 hours after clinical improvement) together with doxycycline and followed by doxycycline with or without metronidazole to complete 2 weeks of treatment is recommended. An alternative regimen of clindamycin and an aminoglycoside may be particularly appropriate for patients with a tubo-ovarian abscess. Adjunctive nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs do not improve the clinical outcome. Removal of an intrauterine device (IUD) does not hasten clinical resolution (and may delay it), and in most cases the IUD is left in place.
Q: Does treatment assure a satisfactory outcome and what are some of the measures recommended to prevent pelvic inflammatory disease?
A: Although more than 90% of patients with pelvic inflammatory disease will have a clinical response to CDC-recommended treatment, the long-term outcome of treatment is still suboptimal. It remains unclear why the long-term outcome of treated pelvic inflammatory disease remains so dismal, given the high rates of clinical response. Perhaps infection-induced damage to the fallopian tubes has occurred by the time treatment is first given. This observation, together with the frequent occurrence of subclinical pelvic inflammatory disease, have highlighted the importance of recognizing prevention of pelvic inflammatory disease as a major public heath priority. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, CDC, and other professional organizations recommend annual C. trachomatis screening for all sexually active women younger than 25 years of age and older women at increased risk for infection (e.g., women with multiple or new sex partners). These groups also recommend testing for N. gonorrhoeae among women at increased risk for infection (e.g., women with multiple sex partners or previous gonorrhea infection and women living in communities with a high prevalence of disease).