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Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

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Updated December 17, 2012

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes and other female reproductive organs. It is a common and serious complication of some sexually transmitted diseases ( STDs ), especially chlamydia and gonorrhea . Untreated PID can lead to serious consequences including infertility, ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy in the fallopian tube or elsewhere outside of the womb), and chronic pelvic pain.

Prevalence of PID:

It is estimated that more than 1 million women experience an episode of acute PID each year, and that 1 in 8 sexually active adolescent girls will develop PID before reaching age 20.

Causes of PID:

PID occurs when bacteria move upward from a woman's vagina or cervix into her reproductive organs. The most common types of bacteria that will cause PID are associated with gonorrhea and chlamydia . Douching and using an IUD also put you at greater risk for PID, as does having had STDs in the past. If you have had PID before, you are at greater risk of getting it again.

Symptoms of PID:

PID symptoms can vary from none to severe. Women who have symptoms of PID most commonly have lower abdominal pain, but other symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Unusual vaginal discharge that has an unpleasant smell
  • Painful intercourse
  • Painful urination
  • Irregular menstrual bleeding

Preventing PID:

Untreated STDs, especially chlamydia or gonorrhea are the main preventable cause of PID. Practicing safer sex, in order to avoid getting any STDs is the best way to prevent PID.

If you are going to use an IUD for contraception, getting tested for STDs before it is inserted can reduce your risk of PID. Also, aAccording to the American Social Health Association women who douche once a month or more are more likely to have PID than those who douche less than once a month. If you think you have an STD getting tested immediately is another way to protect against PID.

Diagnosing PID:

PID is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are often subtle and mild. PID is usually diagnosed based on an exam a doctor finds the following symptoms and he or she has ruled out other potential causes:

  • Lower abdominal tenderness
  • Tenderness of fallopian tubes and ovaries
  • Tenderness of the cervix

Because he or she needs to eliminate other possible causes, your doctor may want to do other tests. Your doctor may use ultrasound or in some cases a laparoscopy for diagnosis.

Treatment of PID:

PID can be treated with several types of antibiotics. But treatment will not reverse any damage that was done to the reproductive organs as a result of PID, which is why early detection and treatment is so important. The longer a woman delays treatment for PID, the more likely she is to become infertile or to have a future ectopic pregnancy because of damage to the fallopian tubes.

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