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Puerperal Endometritis

By

Julie S. Moldenhauer

, MD, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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Puerperal endometritis is uterine infection, typically caused by bacteria ascending from the lower genital or gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms are uterine tenderness, abdominal or pelvic pain, fever, malaise, and sometimes discharge. Diagnosis is clinical, rarely aided by culture. Treatment is with broad-spectrum antibiotics (eg, clindamycin plus gentamicin).

Incidence of postpartum endometritis is affected mainly by the mode of delivery:

  • Vaginal deliveries: 1 to 3%

  • Scheduled caesarean deliveries (done before labor starts): 5 to 15%

  • Unscheduled caesarean deliveries (done after labor starts): 15 to 20%

Patient characteristics also affect incidence.

Etiology of Puerperal Endometritis

Endometritis may develop after chorioamnionitis during labor or postpartum. Predisposing conditions include

Infection tends to be polymicrobial; the most common pathogens include the following:

Infection may occur in the endometrium (endometritis), parametrium (parametritis), and/or myometrium (myometritis).

Symptoms and Signs of Puerperal Endometritis

Typically, the first symptoms of puerperal endometritis are lower abdominal pain and uterine tenderness, followed by fever—most commonly within the first 24 to 72 hours postpartum. Chills, headache, malaise, and anorexia are common. Sometimes the only symptom is a low-grade fever.

Pallor, tachycardia, and leukocytosis usually occur, and the uterus is soft, large, and tender. Discharge may be decreased or profuse and malodorous, with or without blood. When parametria are affected, pain and fever are severe; the large, tender uterus is indurated at the base of the broad ligaments, extending to the pelvic walls or posterior cul-de-sac.

Pelvic abscess may manifest as a palpable mass separate from and adjacent to the uterus.

Diagnosis of Puerperal Endometritis

  • Clinical evaluation

  • Usually tests to exclude other causes (eg, urinalysis and urine culture)

Diagnosis within 24 hours of delivery is based on clinical findings of pain, tenderness, and temperature > 38° C after delivery.

After the first 24 hours, puerperal endometritis is presumed present if no other cause is apparent in patients with temperature 38° C on 2 successive days. Other causes of fever and lower abdominal symptoms include urinary tract infections Introduction to Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can be divided into upper tract infections, which involve the kidneys (pyelonephritis), and lower tract infections, which involve the bladder (cystitis), urethra... read more (UTIs), wound infection, septic pelvic thrombophlebitis, and perineal infection. Uterine tenderness is often difficult to distinguish from incisional tenderness in patients who have had a cesarean delivery.

Urinalysis and urine culture are usually done.

Endometrial cultures are rarely indicated because specimens collected through the cervix are almost always contaminated by vaginal and cervical flora. Endometrial cultures should be done only when endometritis is refractory to routine antibiotic regimens and no other cause of infection is obvious; sterile technique with a speculum is used to avoid vaginal contamination, and the sample is sent for aerobic and anaerobic cultures.

Blood cultures are rarely indicated and should be done only when endometritis is refractory to routine antibiotic regimens or clinical findings suggest septicemia.

If despite adequate treatment of endometritis, fever persists for > 48 hours (some clinicians use a 72-hour cutoff) without a downward trend in peak temperature, other causes, such as pelvic abscess and pelvic thrombophlebitis (particularly if no abscess is evident on scans), should be considered. Abdominal and pelvic imaging, usually by CT, is sensitive for abscess but detects pelvic thrombophlebitis only if the clots are large. If imaging shows neither abnormality, a trial of heparin is typically begun to treat presumed pelvic thrombophlebitis, usually a diagnosis of exclusion. A therapeutic response confirms the diagnosis.

Pearls & Pitfalls

  • If adequate treatment of puerperal endometritis does not result in a downward trend in peak temperature after 48 to 72 hours, consider pelvic abscess and, particularly if no abscess is evident on scans, septic pelvic thrombophlebitis.

Treatment of Puerperal Endometritis

  • Clindamycin plus gentamicin, with or without ampicillin

Treatment of puerperal endometritis is a broad-spectrum antibiotic regimen given IV until women are afebrile for 48 hours.

The first-line choice is clindamycin 900 mg IV every 8 hours plus gentamicin 1.5 mg/kg IV every 8 hours or 5 mg/kg once a day (1 Treatment reference Puerperal endometritis is uterine infection, typically caused by bacteria ascending from the lower genital or gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms are uterine tenderness, abdominal or pelvic pain... read more ); ampicillin 1 g every 6 hours is added if enterococcal infection is suspected or if no improvement occurs by 48 hours. Continuing treatment with oral antibiotics is not necessary.

Treatment reference

Prevention of Puerperal Endometritis

Preventing or minimizing predisposing factors is essential. Appropriate hand washing should be encouraged. Vaginal delivery cannot be sterile, but aseptic techniques are used.

When delivery is cesarean, prophylactic antibiotics given within 60 minutes before surgery can reduce risk of endometritis by up to 75%.

Key Points

  • Puerperal endometritis is more common after cesarean delivery, particularly if unscheduled.

  • The infection is usually polymicrobial.

  • Treat based on clinical findings (eg, postpartum pain, fundal tenderness, or unexplained fever), using broad-spectrum antibiotics.

  • Endometrial and blood cultures are not routinely done.

  • For cesarean delivery, give prophylactic antibiotics within 60 minutes before surgery.

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