Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

Key Facts
  • PID is a serious infection in the female pelvis usually caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
  • It’s super common, effecting more than 1 million people each year in the U.S.
  • Anyone can get PID, but those who have multiple sexual partners and practice unsafe sex have a higher risk.
  • If you have symptoms of an STI or PID, get treated right away!
  • Esta guía en Español

painful cramps

PID is a serious infection usually caused by sexually transmitted infections (STI). It can cause problems including chronic pain and difficulty getting pregnant (infertility). It’s important to lessen your chance of STIs by not having sex, always using condoms if you do have sex, and getting screened for STIs by your health care provider.

What is PID?

PID is an infection of the female reproductive organs (the fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries, vagina, and cervix). It’s usually caused by a STI.

Who gets PID?

Anyone born with female reproductive organs can get PID, but those who have multiple sexual partners and practice unsafe sex are most likely to get an STI that could cause PID.

How does someone get PID?

PID usually begins with an infection of the vagina and cervix (the opening to the uterus), caused by an STI such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. If the infections of the vagina and cervix aren’t treated with antibiotics, they can spread to the endometrium (lining of the uterus), and then to the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and abdomen.

PID rarely occurs after having certain surgical procedures, such as an abortion, or after treatment for an abnormal Pap test. Other factors that put you at risk include: if you have a sexually transmitted infection and do not get treated, have sex with a partner who is having unprotected sex with other people, if you’ve had PID before or if you douche while you have a STI.

 What are the symptoms of PID?

PID doesn’t always have signs or symptoms. However, if you have PID you may have pain in the lower abdomen (belly) area. Symptoms of PID can include:

  • Lower abdominal (belly) pain and/or lower back pain
  • A different kind of vaginal discharge than usual (change in smell, color, or amount)
  • Fever
  • Vomiting, nausea
  • Pain during sex and/or with a pelvic exam by your health care provide
  • Cramps
  • Bleeding or spotting between periods
  • Pain or burning when passing urine

If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should call or see your health care provider right away. If you have a high fever or severe pain, go to the closest emergency room. The infection can get worse and cause more pain and damage to your reproductive organs in just a day or two.

How is PID diagnosed?

Your health care provider can likely tell if you have PID based on your symptoms, a pelvic exam, and blood tests. On exam, your provider might notice abnormal vaginal discharge or tenderness in your pelvis. Sometimes an ultrasound (a test that uses soundwaves without radiation) is used to look inside at your reproductive organs to see if there’s any sign of an abscess or other condition. Rarely, a laparoscopy (a minor surgery to look at your reproductive organs) will be needed if you’re not getting better.

How is PID treated?

Depending on how sick you are, you may be treated either in a hospital or as an outpatient (just going to your health care provider’s office for an appointment). If your health care provider feels you need to stay in the hospital, you’ll receive antibiotics through an IV (through your veins) and by mouth (a pill) until you feel better. After leaving the hospital, you’ll have to take antibiotic medicine by mouth for a total of 2 weeks.

If you’re treated as an outpatient, you may receive a shot or pills to start the treatment, and then you have to take antibiotic medicine by mouth for 2 weeks. It’s very important to take all of the pills, even if you start to feel better. If you don’t, you could get worse. A few days after you start taking medicine, you’ll need to see your health care provider again. If you don’t get better, you may need to have more tests and/or take different medicine.

If you find out you have PID, you need to make sure your partner(s) get(s) tested and treated for gonorrhea and chlamydia. Your partner(s) must be treated for both kinds of STIs no matter what your test results or his/her test results show. Unless your partner is treated at the same time as you, you are likely to get infected again.

Is PID dangerous?

PID can be dangerous if not treated early. Scar tissue can form in the fallopian tubes and inside the abdomen. These scars can block the fallopian tubes, which can cause difficulty getting pregnant or infertility, but this isn’t always the case. If the tubes are partly blocked, fertilized eggs may not reach the uterus and the pregnancy can form in the fallopian tubes (known as a tubal or ectopic pregnancy). Scarring can cause pain that lasts for months or even years. If the effects of PID are very bad, surgery may be needed to treat scar tissue. PID is more likely to come back if you get an STI again. Also, the more times you have PID, the more likely you are to have problems that harm your body.

How can PID be prevented?

To prevent PID, you need to avoid getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

The best ways to prevent getting an STI:

  • Use a latex condom either external (male) or internal (female) (polyurethane if allergic to latex) correctly every time (if you decide to have sex)
  • Limit the number of sexual partners you have, and make sure all of your partners get treated for STIs
  • If you’ve had sex, get regular STI testing for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia
  • Get immunized against HPV
  • Don’t douche. Douching can spread the bacteria further up the reproductive tract
  • Don’t smoke cigarettes
  • If you’re currently being treated for a cervical infection or PID, make sure to finish all of your antibiotics
Remember, if you have any symptoms of an STI or PID, see your health care provider right away. Getting treated early (within 1-2 days) will greatly lower your chances of complications. Make sure you get tested for other STIs such as syphilis and HIV, too.