What Is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on September 10, 2023
4 min read

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the organs of a women’s reproductive system. They include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and cervix. It’s usually caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI), like chlamydia or gonorrhea.

PID can cause pain in your lower belly and hurt your ability to have a baby if it’s not treated properly. About 770,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with PID each year.

You might not notice any symptoms of PID early on. But as the infection gets worse, you can have:

  • Pain in your lower belly and pelvis
  • Heavy discharge from your vagina with an unpleasant odor
  • More bleeding than usual during your period
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Pain during sex
  • Fever and chills
  • Pain when you pee or a hard time going
  • Throwing up, or feeling like you’re going to throw up

Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms. Some can also be signs of other conditions, so your doctor will most likely run some tests to figure out whether you have PID or something else.

PID can cause serious problems if it’s not treated. For example, you might have trouble getting pregnant or have pain in your pelvic area that doesn’t go away.

In some cases, PID can bring on more intense symptoms, and you’ll need to go to the emergency room. Get medical help right away if you have:

  • Severe pain in your lower belly
  • Signs of shock, like fainting
  • Vomiting
  • Fever higher than 101 F

Some of these also can be signs of other serious medical conditions, like appendicitis or an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that happens outside the womb). You would need medical help right away for these as well.

Treating a STI right away can help keep you from getting PID. Symptoms of STI are a lot like those of PID. They include heavy discharge from your vagina with an unpleasant odor, pain when you pee, and bleeding between periods.

Call your doctor as soon as you notice any of these to lower your chances of PID.

When you visit your doctor, they’ll probably give you a pelvic examination. They’ll check for signs of tenderness in your cervix, uterus, or surrounding organs (ovaries and fallopian tubes).

They’ll also:

  • Look for signs of any fluid in the vagina or cervix that doesn’t look right
  • Ask about your symptoms and your medical and sexual history
  • Take your temperature

Your doctor may check fluid samples under a microscope and send cultures for gonorrhea and chlamydia to the lab.

They might also recommend some tests including:

  • A blood test to check for sexually transmitted infection
  • An ultrasound to make a picture of your internal organs

If the exam or your tests show a high suspicion for PID, your doctor will talk to you about what treatment you need to get rid of it.

If your doctor diagnoses PID, you should tell anyone you’ve had sex with in the past 60 days about your illness. If it’s been longer than 60 days since you’ve had sex, tell your most recent partner, who should also get treated.

You should not have sex while you’re undergoing treatment for PID, and neither should your partner.

If you have PID, your doctor will most likely treat you with antibiotics, but sometimes you may need to be admitted to the hospital.

Several different types of antibiotics have been found to work against the illness, and you may be given several types to take together. You’ll most likely be taking antibiotics for 2 weeks. You should always follow the directions and take all of them, even if you feel better.

Your symptoms should improve within 3 days. If they don’t, you should go back to your doctor, because you may need to try something else.

In more serious cases, your treatment may include a stay in the hospital. There may be several reasons for this:

  • You’ve been taking antibiotics and your symptoms aren’t improving. Your doctor might ask you to take more tests to figure out why.
  • You need to take antibiotics with an IV. If you’re not able to keep pills down, for instance, your doctor will want you to get antibiotics directly into your body with intravenous fluids.
  • You’ve developed what’s called a “tubo-ovarian abscess.” This happens when part of an ovary or fallopian tube fills with infected fluid that needs to be drained. IV antibiotics are usually given first to see if they’ll clear up the infection.
  • You are sick to your stomach, vomiting, or running a high fever. Your doctor might not be able to rule out another abdominal problem, such as appendicitis.