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Pelvic inflammatory disease (acute PID) is a serious infection of the female reproductive organs. Anyone with a uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries can be affected, including menopausal women and transgender men.
Acute pelvic inflammatory disease can cause scar tissue that grows between internal reproductive organs and causes symptoms of ongoing pelvic pain.
It can also lead to ectopic pregnancy, when the fertilized egg grows outside the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy can be life threatening, and makes it impossible for the fetus to survive.
Without treatment, PID can lead to chronic infection. About 1 out of 8 people diagnosed with PID will experience difficulty conceiving or have infertility.
Pelvic inflammatory disease is a complication caused by bacteria that come from a sexually transmitted disease (STD) such as gonorrhea, or from a chlamydial infection. PID usually starts when sexually transmitted bacteria spreads from the vagina into the uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries.
Certain bacterial infections that are not sexually transmitted can also cause PID. For example, bacteria can enter the reproductive tract any time the cervical barrier is disturbed, such as during menstruation or IUD insertion and after childbirth, miscarriage, or abortion.
When there is a build up of excessive bacteria, bacterial vaginosis (a type of vaginitis) can occur. Bacterial vaginosis is an inflammation of the vagina that can turn into an infection, that can then cause PID. Those of reproductive age are most likely to get bacterial vaginosis.
Symptoms of PID can be subtle or mild; some people may not have any symptoms until they realize they cannot conceive or have chronic pelvic pain. The most common PID symptoms include:
The symptoms of PID may look like other health problems. Mild symptoms can often be mistaken as a sexually transmitted infection like chlamydia.
If you experience any of the symptoms, stop having sex and talk with your healthcare provider as soon as possible for a diagnosis.
There are no definitive tests for PID. A diagnosis generally is based on your overall health history, including sexual habits and history of past STIs, as well as a physical and a pelvic exam to test for tenderness and swelling. Other diagnostic procedures may include:
Your healthcare provider will typically recommend antibiotic treatment such as amoxicillin, during which your symptoms may be alleviated before the infection treatment course is completed. It is always recommended to finish the full course of antibiotics, even if symptoms subside, to make sure the disease does not come back.
It is also important to inform your sexual partner(s) about your diagnosis so they can also be tested for STDs or infections and receive treatment.
Note, though, that treatment for a pelvic infection will not undo any damage that has already happened to your reproductive organs. The later the treatment happens during the disease, the higher the likelihood you may have complications.
If you get infected with another STD, you can also have recurrent PID (when the disease comes back).
Contact your doctor immediately for treatment if you experience the following severe symptoms (as they may indicate a complication and require hospitalization or intravenous antibiotics):
The best way to prevent PID is to avoid contracting STDs like gonorrhea and chlamydia. Abstaining from vaginal, anal, and oral sex is a definitive prevention, but not realistic for sexually active individuals.
For those who are sexually active, the following practices can reduce the risk of getting PID: