What Is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs -- uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix and ovaries. It usually happens when a sexually transmitted infection (STI), like chlamydia or gonorrhea, isn’t treated quickly.

PID affects about 5% of women in the United States. It’s most common in sexually active women ages 15 to 24. Your odds of getting PID are higher if you:

  • Have sex with more than one partner or your partner has sex with other people
  • Have had PID or an STI before
  • Recently got an intrauterine device (IUD) to keep from getting pregnant
  • Douche (wash out your vagina with water or other fluids)

It’s important to call your doctor right away if you think you have PID. If it’s not treated, you might have trouble getting pregnant or be at risk of an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that happens outside the womb).

How Do I Know If I Have PID?

PID doesn’t always cause symptoms, but you might notice some of the following:

  • Pain in your lower belly and pelvis
  • Heavy discharge from your vagina with an unpleasant odor
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain when you pee or trouble peeing
  • Fever and chills

See your doctor right away or go to the emergency room if you have any of these:

  • Serious pain low in your belly
  • Vomiting
  • Signs of shock, like fainting
  • Temperature higher than 101 F

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a pelvic exam, where she’ll see if your reproductive organs are sensitive or painful. She’ll also take samples of fluid from your vagina and cervix to look for signs of infection, and she may want to take a sample of your pee or blood as well.

She may also recommend an ultrasound to find out more about your reproductive organs. An ultrasound is when sound waves are used to make detailed images inside your body.

What's the Treatment?

PID can be cured, but there’s no way to undo any scarring or other damage that may have been done. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor and start treatment right away.

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Antibiotics usually will get rid of the infection. It’s important to take all the medication as your doctor prescribed it, even if your symptoms get better.

Your partner should be tested (and treated) for an STI as well. You shouldn’t have sex until you’re both finished with the antibiotics to make sure you don’t get the infection again.

You might need to be treated in a hospital if your doctor isn’t sure what’s causing your symptoms or you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Need to take antibiotics intravenously (directly in your bloodstream through an IV)
  • Have a high fever or nausea or vomiting

In rare cases, if you have an abscess (a swollen area of tissue that’s filled with pus) on one of your fallopian tubes or ovaries, you might need surgery to drain it. But antibiotics may be tried first to see if they help prior to surgery.

How Can I Protect Myself?

The only sure way to avoid PID is not to have sex. But if you’re sexually active, you can do a few things to lower your chances:

  • Have sex with one partner who has been tested for an STI and who only has sex with you.
  • Use condoms every time.
  • Don’t douche.
  • Get tested right away if you think you have an STI or you’ve had sex with someone who has one.

Sources

SOURCES:

Womenshealth.gov: “Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.”

CDC: “Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) -- CDC Fact Sheet.”

Mayo Clinic: “Diseases and Conditions: Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).”
 

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