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What is PID and how is it treated?
What is PID? How do you get treated for PID, and how long do the symptoms continue after being treated?
Lisa Oldson, MD on September 13, 2011
Thanks for sharing your great question about a potentially serious condition.
Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, is a common infection of the female reproductive system, including the uterus and fallopian tubes. If detected early, it can be successfully treated...but if treatment is delayed, the infection can cause chronic (long-term) health problems.
Untreated sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), especially chlamydia and gonorrhea, are are the main culprits of PID...but other bacteria can also cause the disease. Both chlamydia and gonorrhea are caused by bacteria...and when a woman catches chlamydia or gonorrhea in her vagina, the bacteria can move upward through the cervix into the uterus (where women carry babies when they’re pregnant) and can even move into the fallopian tubes (the tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries into the uterus).
Unfortunately, when they enter the fallopian tubes, the bacteria can turn normal tissue into scar tissue. When scar tissue forms in the fallopian tubes, it becomes more difficult for eggs to get to the uterus. In other words, women with PID may have a hard time becoming pregnant. In some cases, the scar tissue can completely block sperm from fertilizing an egg causing infertility. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that up to 10-15% of women with PID become infertile as a result of the infection.
As for incomplete blockage of the tubes with scar tissue...this can cause ectopic (or tubal) pregnancies, which sometimes require surgery.
Upon unprotected vaginal sex with someone infected with chlamydia or gonorrhea, PID can develop quickly (within days)...or it could take months. Typically, however, the longer a woman is infected with chlamydia or gonorrhea before treatment, the more damage the bacteria can cause to the reproductive organs. Sadly, the damage that occurs when a woman has PID is permanent...so early detection is key.
Women (and their doctors) don’t always realize they have PID because symptoms can be mild and easy to confuse with other conditions. Women often don’t have any symptoms of PID...at least not at first. But for women who do experience symptoms, they can include pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis, fever, vaginal discharge and vaginal odor, painful urination, pain during sex or irregular menstrual bleeding.
The regular treatment for PID is antibiotics...follow your doctor’s instructions for treatment, and remember: when you get treated for PID, it’s very important to take all of the antibiotics you’re given (even if the symptoms go away) so that the infection will be less likely to come back.
After you start treatment, the infection and any related symptoms usually begin to improve within three days. After three days of antibiotics, the CDC recommends that you check in with your doctor...if your symptoms don’t go away with treatment, your doctor might decide to treat the infection differently.
One more thing about treatment...your sexual partner may need to get treated for STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea, as well. Not having unprotected sex until both you and your partner have been tested and treated is the only way to make sure you don’t pass an STD back and forth. You can learn more about safer sex practices in our Prevention + Safer Sex Overview.
What are some ways to reduce the risk of PID? For starters, do what you can to reduce your risk of catching an STD by limiting the number of people with whom you have vaginal, anal or oral sex, and using barrier protection for any sexual activity (unless you’re in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone whose STD status you know).
And if you’re sexually active, regular screenings for STDs are a smart precaution, too. In fact, the CDC recommends annual chlamydia testing for women 25 and younger. And for women older than 25 with a new sex partner or multiple sex partners, the CDC also recommends yearly chlamydia testing. To learn more about chlamydia and gonorrhea testing, treatment and prevention, see our Expert Guides.
Thanks again for your important questions. I wish you the best of health.
- American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.