Dealing with Sexually Transmitted Infection: Michelle’s experience with PID
Everyone dreads getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s that embarrassing kind of problem you really don’t want to have to talk to a doctor, or even your best friend, about. But not all sexually transmitted infections have symptoms like vaginal discharge, itch and pain.
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an STI that causes symptoms like stomach pains, nausea and vomiting, and fever. It makes the condition hard to diagnose. Many women like Michelle, who was 31 years old when she got PID, make several trips to the doctor, not suspecting they have an STI, before getting diagnosed.
What on earth is wrong with me?
“It must have been at least six weeks and on my third visit to the doctor that I received a suspected diagnosis of PID. When I first visited the clinic, I’d just become sexually active after a bit of a break. I had developed vaginal thrush and was feeling a bit run down. I also had a small lump on my vagina. I wasn’t really worried about the lump because I’d had a similar thing before and it was nothing. But because I was having sex again, I wanted to check.
“I was kind of shocked when the nurse told me the lump was an infected pimple and I needed to take antibiotics. She also gave me cream to insert into my vagina to fix the thrush. I was pleased that there was no major problem.”
Little did Michelle know, there was a major problem, hidden in her left ovary. The antibiotics she was prescribed to treat the ‘infected pimple’ didn’t clear it up (it was actually a cyst that didn’t need treatment). The antibiotics probably masked the symptoms of PID.
“I got better for a while and the thrush cleared up, but I started feeling run down again later that month. It was just before Christmas and I had kids staying with me, so I thought I was just worn out. But a couple of days after Christmas, I started feeling really bad.
“I woke up one morning vomiting and dry retching. It was horrible! I rested and tried to eat, and felt a bit better as the day wore on. But the next morning, the same thing happened. This time the nausea was worse and wouldn’t go away.”
But I can’t be pregnant!
The kind of nausea and vomiting Michelle experienced is often the first warning of an unintended pregnancy, and that’s what the second doctor suspected when she got there.
“I didn’t think I was pregnant. My periods were due but not overdue. I was having sex but I had used condoms every time. There was one time when the condom broke but my boyfriend hadn’t ejaculated, so I was pretty sure I was okay. I took a pregnancy test just in case but it was negative.
“In the end, my blood test showed that I had an infection. The doctor prescribed more antibiotics and I started to get better. But a couple of weeks later, I had my head in the toilet again. I’d lost a lot of weight by then because I hadn’t been eating much. If anything, I usually gain weight at Christmas time, so was starting to get really worried.”
Perhaps it’s all in my head?
But when Michelle described her illness, it didn’t really sound that severe.
“It sounded like a little stomach pain and a headache, nowhere near as bad as it felt. I started wondering if I was making it all up, but I couldn’t eat, had bad stomach pains and a fever, and was extremely low on energy. In hindsight, I realise I was so sick I could barely be bothered getting out of the house to go to the doctor.”
Luckily, Michelle’s friend dragged her to another doctor.
“The third doctor spent a lot of time feeling my stomach. I had bad pains in my lower stomach, especially on the left side near my hip bone (which I found out later is where my ovary is located). I also had pain behind my right rib. The doctor suspected I had PID, prescribed me antibiotics and referred me for a trans-vaginal ultrasound the next day.”
Michelle wasn’t sure what to expect when she went for the ultrasound.
“It was a bit scary, but fascinating at the same time. The doctor had to put an ultrasound camera – which was attached to a thing that looked like a big dildo – into my vagina. The camera looked inside, at my ovaries and fallopian tubes. It showed up on a fuzzy black and white TV screen. The doctor explained to me where all my organs were on the screen.
“He also pointed out a chunk of something he called ‘debris’, which he measured with an electronic ruler on the ultrasound screen. This was the cause of the problem. The diagnosis of PID was confirmed.”
I have to tell my new boyfriend what?!
“My boyfriend also had to get treatment, because I probably got the infection from him. I’ll never be 100% sure, but given the timing and his reaction when he found out I had an STI, I think it’s highly likely.
“I’d always dreaded having to tell a boyfriend (or even a doctor) I had problems down there. But by the time I found out what the problem was, almost everyone I knew, including my boyfriend, was aware of my illness. I was too sick to bother trying to keep it a secret, and I ended up telling a lot of people I had an STI. No one was judgmental, but they were kind of shocked I was telling them.
“In the end, talking to my boyfriend was easy. We went to the clinic together and he took antibiotics as well.
“It took me a while to get better. I was in bed for several more days and unable to do normal things like exercise for a couple of weeks. I took antibiotics for two weeks and didn’t really feel myself again for about a month. I lost a lot of weight when I was sick, and it took me months to get back to my normal weight.
“But I recovered, and am very glad I went to the doctor when I did. PID can make you infertile if it’s left untreated for too long. But when the doctor did my ultrasound, he said that the infection hadn’t damaged my fallopian tubes, so I should be able to get pregnant without any problems.”
For more information on pelvic inflammatory disease, including risk factors, statistics, progression, diagnosis and treatment, see Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).
For more information on sexually transmitted infections, including the progression and incidence of common STIs, prevention and treatment of STIs, effects on sperm production and preconception screening, see Sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The female urogenital system consists of all the organs involved in reproduction and the formation and release of urine. For more information, see Female Urogenital System.