Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

PID a glance

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) occurs when a bacterial infection invades a woman’s reproductive organs and begins to damage tissue.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as gonorrhea and chlamydia most often cause PID.
  • When left untreated, PID decreases fertility because the damaged tissue grows and blocks the fallopian tubes, which causes problems for the eggs that must travel from the ovaries to the uterus through the fallopian tubes.
  • PID cases often don’t show any symptoms, but when symptoms are present they may include pain during sex, fever and abdominal cramping.
  • Treating PID consists of administering antibiotics or surgery for more serious cases.

What is PID?

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection caused by bacterial buildups, most often due to untreated STDs, that occur throughout a woman’s reproductive organs, including the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes.

About a million American women contract forms of PID each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 8 women with PID will go on to experience challenges getting pregnant. Fortunately, PID is treatable.

PID can affect fertility because the infection damages the fallopian tubes and obstructs eggs as they attempt to travel through the fallopian tubes for fertilization. The longer a woman has PID and does not treat it, the more likely she is going to experience fertility complications.

If PID goes untreated, it can cause permanent damage. Scar tissue may form throughout the fallopian tubes causing blockage and inability to get pregnant. If an egg does manage to get into the fallopian tubes and is fertilized by a sperm, the chances for having an ectopic pregnancy (a dangerous pregnancy that occurs when the embryo attaches and begins growing outside the uterus) increases dramatically. After cases of severe PID, advanced reproductive medicine such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) is often the only way to become pregnant.

Causes & symptoms of PID

When STDs are left untreated, the infections can cause PID. The most common infections that cause PID are chlamydia and gonorrhea. Risk factors that increase a woman’s chance of developing PID also include having multiple sexual partners, having had PID in the past or douching (which removes healthy bacteria from the vagina that help fight infections). Having an initial case of PID increases the chance of contracting the condition again or in a reoccurring pattern.

Symptoms of PID

PID can cause severe cramping or in some cases no symptoms whatsoever. Other symptoms of PID may include:

  • Pain during sex
  • Fever
  • Abnormal and foul smelling vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding in between periods
  • Burning urination.

A formal PID screening or test does not exist. It’s important to see a doctor as soon as symptoms present so that they can be treated before causing ongoing damage to the reproductive organs. PID’s occurrence is confirmed by assessing a woman’s medical history and conducting a physical exam that usually involves a blood test to check for bacterial infections.

PID treatment

Fortunately, once PID is discovered treatments can clear the infection from a woman’s body and enable a successful pregnancy. Note that PID treatment will not restore damage to the reproductive organs that has already occurred from the infection.

Antibiotics are the most common way to treat PID. If the case of PID is severe, a woman may need to be admitted to the hospital to receive intravenous antibiotics. In rare cases, the woman may require surgery to physically drain a portion of the infection, known as an abscess.