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Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is an infection of the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes.

The most common causes are two sexually transmitted infection (STIs): gonorrhea and chlamydia. These bacteria are passed when a person’s genitals or mouth come in contact with an infected person’s genitals. PID may develop when an infection is untreated and spreads from the vagina into the rest of the reproductive organs. It may develop in a very short time, or over several months.

The most common result of PID is sterility, caused by blockage of the fallopian tubes or surgical removal of the tubes. PID causes scarring in the tubes, increasing the chances of ectopic pregnancy. This happens when a fertilized egg starts to grow in the fallopian tube, but is unable to pass into the uterus because the tube has become narrow and scarred. Immediate surgery is necessary to remove the fetus because this condition seriously threatens the mother’s life.

Untreated PID may also cause inflammation of the abdominal cavity (peritonitis).

Symptoms

Symptoms of PID include lower abdominal discomfort or pain; unusual vaginal discharge; irregular or painful menstrual cycles, with symptoms becoming worse after each period; abdominal pain during or after sex; and backaches, fever, upset stomach, diarrhea, or a general feeling of illness.

If these symptoms are present, have a medical exam right away. A person may not know they haven a sexually transmitted infection (STI), because often there aren’t any symptoms. Even if a woman’s partner doesn’t have STI symptoms, it’s still possible that she can have PID.

Testing

Testing for PID includes a pelvic examination and cultures taken from the cervix; these can be performed at UHS.

Treatment

PID can be cured, especially if treated early in the infection. It’s important to take all medicine exactly as instructed, even if symptoms go away; tell your sexual partner(s) about the PID diagnosis; avoid intimacy involving exchange of bodily fluids until your partner is tested and treated for STIs; and see your health care provider for follow-up testing within seven days of finishing your medication.

Avoiding reinfection

Once you’ve had PID, you're more likely to become infected with HIV or a STI. Each reinfection becomes more serious. Here are some ways to prevent reinfection:

  • Be aware of symptoms (yours or your partner’s) which may be related to a STI, such as unusual discharge or odor. Remember that STIs often have no symptoms.
  • Proper use of latex condoms and spermicide or other barrier to protect against contact with a partner’s genitals is highly effective in preventing disease transmission.
  • If an infection is diagnosed in one partner, both partners need treatment. Until the infection is cured, avoid sexual activity involving exchange of bodily fluids.
  • Have an annual gynecological examination and Pap test. Ask the provider to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea each year, unless a condom has been used every time you’ve had vaginal intercourse.
  • If you’re with a new partner, talk about STI testing before having intercourse. If two people in a relationship both test negative for STIs, the risk of transmitting an infection is reduced, but not eliminated. STIs can go undetected, even with testing.

A woman who knows her body, has regular check-ups, and seeks early treatment for STIs is less likely to develop PID.

Adapted from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health