Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, is an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs. Caused by bacteria that travel up the reproductive tract, PID can result in inflammation of the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. A very serious disease, PID can lead to long-term health problems if left untreated, and it can even be life-threatening. In fact, PID is responsible for over 100 deaths every year. In the United States, more than one million women are infected each year, while more than 220,000 women contract the infection yearly in the U.K.
How Do You Get Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?
PID is the result of a bacterial infection that travels up your vagina and into your reproductive tract. There are many types of bacteria that are responsible for causing PID, though those organisms associated with gonorrhea and chlamydia are the most common.
PID is typically contracted during sexual intercourse with a partner who is infected with the gonorrhea or chlamydia bacteria. However, it is also possible to develop PID after invasive procedures, such as a pregnancy termination or pelvic surgery. Though rare, it is also possible to contract the disease after pregnancy.
Who’s At Risk for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?
Though any woman can develop pelvic inflammatory disease, there are factors that can increase your chances. These risk factors include:
- being sexually active
- being under the age of 25 (women under the age of 25 do not have fully-matured cervixes, leaving them at risk for uterine infection)
- having numerous sexual partners
- engaging in unprotected sexual activity
- frequent douching (douching can force bacteria up into the uterus)
- use of an intrauterine device (IUD)
What are the Symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?
What makes PID so dangerous is that its symptoms can often be very difficult to detect. In fact, up to 60% of women do not even recognize that they are infected with PID. Those who do have symptoms may experience mild or severe ones, including:
- lower abdominal pain
- unusual vaginal discharge (often yellow or green)
- pain during intercourse
- burning during urination
- irregular menstrual bleeding
- pain in the upper right abdomen
Complications Associated with Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease can be a very dangerous infection. If left untreated, it can cause long-term health problems and can even become life threatening. Complications include:
- Pelvic, Fallopian, or Ovarian Abscess: During PID, a collection of pus often forms in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or pelvic region. These abscesses need to be treated immediately, and may require surgical removal.
- Ectopic Pregnancy: If you have PID, you are at increased risk for experiencing an ectopic pregnancy in the future. This is because PID can cause scar tissue to form in the fallopian tubes, preventing movement of a fertilized egg towards the uterus. This causes the embryo to implant within the fallopian tube itself, which can be life-threatening.
- Chronic Pelvic Pain: PID often leads to scarring throughout the pelvic region. This can cause organs to become malformed or even adhere to one another resulting in chronic pelvic pain.
- Infertility: Infertility is a common occurrence with PID, affecting about 15% of all those who become infected. Scar tissue caused by the infection can prevent proper ovulation or may block the passage of an egg through the fallopian tubes. This can lead to permanent infertility.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and Pregnancy
Not only can PID severely affect your chances of becoming pregnant, but it can also endanger the health of your baby should you contract the disease during pregnancy. If left untreated, you could increase your chances of having a:
- preterm birth
- low birth weight baby
Treating Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
If you are experiencing any symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease, it is important to seek treatment immediately. The longer you go without treatment, the higher your risk of experiencing health complications. Treatment generally consists of oral or injectable antibiotics that are effective against a wide range of bacteria.
If you have severe symptoms, you may be hospitalized where you can receive intravenous antibiotics. Though antibiotics are often effective at killing the PID infection, they cannot reverse any damage that the disease has already done. If you are suffering from severe scarring, surgery may be required.
Preventing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
There are ways that you can help to reduce your risk of contracting PID:
- Use a condom every time you have sexual intercourse.
- Limit your number of sex partners.
- Ensure that you and your sex partners get tested frequently for STDs.