What is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)?

Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, occurs when female reproductive organs become infected. The reproductive system is the part of the body involved in getting pregnant and having a baby.

Reproductive organs affected by PID include the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. When you have PID, you may feel stomach pain in your lower abdomen (belly). You may also have unusual discharge (leaking) from your vagina.

How do you get PID?

Most people typically get PID through unprotected sex, however 15% of these infections are not sexually transmitted. Sex may let bacteria enter the reproductive system, where they can infect the organs.

How does pelvic inflammatory disease affect me?

PID can damage parts of your reproductive system, including the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. PID can be painful and make it difficult to become pregnant in the future. PID can also lead to a pocket of infection in the pelvis called a tubovarian abscess (TOA) which, if untreated can make people very sick.

Who’s at risk for PID?

You face a higher risk for pelvic inflammatory disease if you:

  • Have a sexually transmitted infection (STIs), especially gonorrhea or chlamydia.
  • Have many sexual partners or have a partner who has had multiple partners.
  • Have had PID in the past.
  • Are sexually active and younger than 25.

How common is pelvic inflammatory disease?

Each year, more than 1 million women in the U.S. get PID. And more than 100,000 women become infertile because of it, meaning they can’t have a baby. Many cases of ectopic pregnancies are also the result of PID. An ectopic pregnancy is when the baby starts to develop outside the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tube. An untreated ectopic pregnancy needs immediate medical attention.

Cases of PID have dropped in recent years. The reason may be that more women get regular testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea, the main infections that lead to PID.

What causes pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)?

Bacteria entering the reproductive tract often cause pelvic inflammatory disease. These bacteria are passed from the vagina, through the cervix, into the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries, and into the pelvis.

Normally, when bacteria enter the vagina, the cervix keeps them from spreading deeper to other reproductive organs. But sometimes, the cervix becomes infected from an STI like gonorrhea and chlamydia. When that happens, it’s less able to keep bacteria out.

Untreated gonorrhea and chlamydia cause about 90% of PID cases. Other causes include:

  • Abortion.
  • Childbirth.
  • Pelvic procedures.
  • Insertion of an intrauterine device (IUD), either copper or hormonal. The risk is highest in the few weeks after insertion. Many times this type of infection is preventable with STI testing around the time of IUD placement.

Does douching cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)?

Most studies report only a very weak association between douching and PID. What can be said is that douching can lead to bacterial vaginosis infections, but there is only a potential association between douching and PID.

What are the symptoms of PID?

You may not realize you have PID. Symptoms might be mild or unnoticeable. But symptoms of PID can also start suddenly and quickly. They can include:

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