Pelvic Inflammatory Disease Differential Diagnoses

Updated: Aug 16, 2021
  • Author: Kristi A Tough DeSapri, MD; Chief Editor: Nicole W Karjane, MD  more...
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Diagnostic Considerations

The diagnosis of acute pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is primarily based on historical and clinical findings. The diagnostic process is imprecise, with no single piece of historical, physical, or laboratory information found to be highly specific or sensitive for the disease.

Patients with endocervical infections and PID may be asymptomatic. Uncomplicated endocervical infections with C trachomatis and N gonorrhoeae are underdiagnosed and tend to be undertreated. [63] Bjartling et al reported less symptomatic urethral infection and decreased lower abdominal findings produced by a less virulent variant strain of C trachomatis. [25]

Although many patients with PID have atypical presentations and exhibit no or few symptoms, more than 25% of these patients meet objective criteria for upper tract infection on laparoscopic examination. The sensitivity of the pelvic examination is only 60%.

Because of the relatively poor specificity and sensitivity of clinical findings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established minimal criteria for the diagnosis of PID. According to these criteria, empiric treatment of PID is indicated when a patient who is at risk for sexually transmitted disease (STD) has pelvic or lower abdominal pain, no identifiable cause for her illness other than PID, and, on pelvic examination, 1 or more of the following minimal criteria [6] :

  • Cervical motion tenderness

  • Uterine tenderness

  • Adnexal tenderness

The differential diagnosis includes appendicitis, cervicitis, urinary tract infection, endometriosis, ovarian torsion, interstitial cystitis, and, less commonly, adnexal tumors. A delay in diagnosis or treatment can result in long-term sequelae, such as chronic pelvic pain and tubal infertility.

All female patients of childbearing age with lower abdominal pain require a pregnancy test. PID is the most common incorrect diagnosis in missed ectopic pregnancy.

Pain from PID usually lasts less than 7 days. If pain lasts longer than 3 weeks, the likelihood that the patient has PID declines substantially.

Most patients show clinical response within 48-72 hours after initiation of medical therapy. If the patient continues to have fever, chills, uterine tenderness, adnexal tenderness, and cervical motion tenderness, consider other possible causes and a diagnostic laparoscopy.

Differential Diagnoses