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It’s treatable and preventable, yet according to the National Health Institute, 1 million women in the United States get Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) every year – and 1 in 8 of those women will suffer from infertility as a result. PID is a contagious and common infection in a woman’s reproductive organs, most often the result of a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). A serious complication of some STIs, PID occurs when certain bacteria – most commonly, chlamydia or gonorrhea – travel upward from a woman’s vagina or cervix into her womb, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. Other infections that are not sexually transmitted can also cause PID; in fact, normal bacteria found in the vagina and on the cervix can sometimes cause PID, but no one is sure why this happens.
About 1 in 8 sexually active girls will have PID before age 20, yet many women who develop it will either experience no symptoms or won’t seek treatment. PID may be detected only later, when you have trouble getting pregnant or if you develop chronic pelvic pain.
Pelvic inflammatory disease can be caused by a variety of bacteria, but is most often caused by gonorrhea or chlamydia infections. These bacteria are usually acquired during unprotected sex, and are types of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). PID occurs when the bacteria makes its way up from a woman’s vagina or cervix and travels to the womb, fallopian tubes, and/or ovaries, and causes an infection.
Less commonly, bacteria may enter your reproductive tract anytime the normal barrier created by the cervix is disturbed, such as during:
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), you are more likely to get PID if:
An additional risk factor is regular douching, which upsets the balance of good versus harmful bacteria in the vagina and may mask symptoms that might otherwise cause you to seek early treatment
There are no tests specifically for diagnosing PID. Health care providers diagnose pelvic inflammatory disease based on signs and symptoms, a pelvic exam, an analysis of vaginal discharge and cervical cultures, or urine tests.
Your health care provider may do a pelvic exam to look for:
You may have lab tests to check for signs of infection:
Other tests may include:
Your health care provider will often have you start taking antibiotics while waiting for your test results.
Symptoms with PID can vary widely – some women may have very mild symptoms, while still others may experience no symptoms. For this reason, episodes of PID can go unrecognized by women and their health care providers.
Pelvic inflammatory disease is often difficult to identify because the symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, such as appendicitis, urinary tract infections, ovarian cysts, and endometriosis.
When present, the most common symptoms of PID are:
More than 100,000 women become infertile each year because of PID. Additionally, many ectopic pregnancies that occur are the result of complications from PID.
The risk of developing short and long-term complications from PID depends upon the severity and number of episodes of PID, which is why prompt and appropriate treatment is so important. Untreated pelvic inflammatory disease may cause scar tissue and collections of infected fluid (abscesses) to develop in your fallopian tubes and damage your reproductive organs.
Complications from PID include the following:
Often, a diagnosis of PID comes along with the news that you have a sexually transmitted Infection (STI), which can be shocking and upsetting. The important thing, though, is to make sure you get treatment right away. And keep in mind that STIs are a very common occurrence – you are not alone!
Over one in two Americans will contract an STD/STI at some point in their lifetimes. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 19 million new sexually transmitted infections are thought to occur each year in the United States. These infections affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels, but women as a group are severely affected by STIs, as they have more frequent and more serious health problems from STIs than men.
It’s important to get regular testing and prompt treatment for STIs. You can reduce your risk of PID by practicing safe sex, but know that the only absolute way to prevent an STI is to not have sex (abstinence). However…
You can reduce your risk of STIs by practicing safe sex:
To reduce your reduce your risk of PID:
If you have mild PID:
If you have more severe PID:
Treatment for your partner: To prevent getting re-infected with an STI (which can then cause another bout of PID,) it’s important to ask your sexual partner or partners to be examined and treated. Your partners can be infected and not have any noticeable symptoms.
If you are being treated for PID, Planned Parenthood gives this important advice:
If you think that you may have PID, see a doctor right away. Early diagnosis and treatment is key to reducing your risk of complications including infertility and long-term pain.
IMPORTANT: If you think you may have an ectopic pregnancy and can’t reach your health care provider, go to a hospital emergency room right away.
Before you go see your doctor, it’s good to make a list of any symptoms you’re experiencing, including that might even seem unrelated to the reason you made the appointment. Also, make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you’re taking.
Then, write down questions to ask your doctor, including:
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
For information about STIs and STDs (including prevention and treatment), visit:
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