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What Is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)?

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the reproductive organs. Left untreated, it can cause severe damage to the body. PID sometimes causes symptoms bad enough to send you to the emergency room. But in many cases, PID is a silent infection with few or no symptoms. The infection can be treated. This can help prevent lasting damage.

Who gets PID?

PID can happen at any age. But most women get it in their late teens or early 20s. Many don’t know they have PID until years later. The longer a woman is infected, the higher her risk of more health problems. The more sexual partners you have, the higher the risk. You are also more likely to get PID if you have had it before. 

What are the symptoms?

If PID symptoms do happen, they are similar to those of many other health problems. This can make PID hard to find. Symptoms can include:

  • Pelvic pain

  • Pain during sex, or bleeding afterward

  • Painful or frequent urination

  • Fever, chills, or other flu-like symptoms

  • Vaginal discharge with a bad odor

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding 

  • Upset stomach and vomiting

  • Pain in the upper right belly

How did I get PID?

Front view cross section of female reproductive tract with arrows showing path through vagina, cervix, uterus, and out of fallopian tubes.

PID happens when certain bacteria infect the reproductive organs. Often this happens because you are infected with an STI (sexually transmitted infection). In a few cases, women develop PID while using an IUD (intrauterine device) for birth control. This often happens in the first 3 weeks after the IUD is inserted. PID is thought to happen in this way: 

  1. Semen is sent from the penis into the vagina during sex. STI-causing bacteria may enter with the semen.

  2. Bacteria may go through the cervix and enter the uterus.

  3. Bacteria travel from the uterus into the fallopian tubes and ovaries. These become infected.

  4. The infection can leave the fallopian tubes and spread to other parts of the body.

Treatment can help

When PID is found and treated early, it can often be cured. But if not treated, PID can cause severe health problems. These include damage to the reproductive organs, pelvic pain, and problems getting pregnant (infertility). In rare cases, PID complications can even be life-threatening. This is why PID should be treated as soon as possible.

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