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Your Guide to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

Pelvic inflammatory disease, commonly called PID, is an infection of the female reproductive organs. PID is one of the most serious complications of a sexually transmitted disease in women: It can lead to irreversible damage to the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, or other parts of the female reproductive system, and is the primary preventable cause of infertility in women.

How Common Is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?

Each year, more than 1 million women in the U.S. experience an episode of PID. As a result of PID, more than 100,000 women become infertile each year. In addition, a large proportion of the 100,000 ectopic (tubal) pregnancies that occur each year can be linked to PID. The rate of infection is highest among teenagers.

What Causes Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?

Normally, the cervix prevents bacteria that enter the vagina from spreading to the internal reproductive organs. If the cervix is exposed to a sexually transmitted disease -- such as gonorrhea and/or chlamydia -- the cervix itself becomes infected and less able to prevent the spread of organisms to the internal organs. PID occurs when the disease-causing organisms travel from the cervix to the upper genital tract. Untreated gonorrhea and chlamydia cause about 90% of all cases of PID. Other causes include abortion, childbirth, and pelvic procedures.

What Are the Symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?

The symptoms of PID can vary, but may include the following:

What Puts a Person at Risk for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?

There are several things which would put a woman at risk for PID, including:

  • Women with sexually transmitted diseases -- especially gonorrhea and chlamydia -- are at greater risk for developing PID.
  • Women who have had a prior episode of PID are at higher risk for another episode.
  • Sexually active teenagers are more likely to develop PID than are older women.
  • Women with many sexual partners are at greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and PID.

Some studies suggest that douching may contribute to PID. Douching may push bacteria into the upper genital tract and may mask the discharge that could alert a woman to seek medical attention.

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