Health Encyclopedia

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

What is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)?

Pelvic inflammatory disease or PID is an infection of a woman’s reproductive tract. It can affect the uterus, fallopian tubes, and the ovaries. Scar tissue grows between internal organs leading to ongoing pelvic pain. It can also lead to ectopic pregnancy. This is when the fertilized egg grows outside the uterus. If left untreated, PID can lead to chronic infection. Also, you may not be able to get pregnant.

What causes PID?

Bacteria cause PID. Often the same type of bacteria that causes sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). PID may also develop if bacteria travel through the vagina and the cervix from the use of an intrauterine device (IUD).

What are the risk factors for PID?

Women of any age can get PID. But, those at greater risk of PID from sexually transmitted bacteria include:

  • Women under 25 who are sexually active
  • Women of childbearing age
  • Women who use intrauterine devices (IUDs)

What are the symptoms of PID?

These are the most common symptoms of PID.

  • Pain and tenderness spread throughout the lower abdomen
  • Pelvic pain
  • Increased foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Fever and chills
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Pain during urination
  • Abdominal pain (upper right area)
  • Pain during sex

The symptoms of PID may look like other conditions or health problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is PID diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a medical history and a physical and pelvic exam. Other tests may include:

  • Exam of vagina and cervix samples under a microscope
  • Blood tests
  • Pap test. For this test, cells are taken from the cervix and checked under a microscope. It's used to find cancer, infection, or inflammation.
  • Ultrasound. This test uses high-frequency sound waves to make an image of the organs.
  • Laparoscopy. This is a minor procedure done using a laparoscope. That is a thin tube with a lens and a light. It is inserted into an incision in the abdominal wall to view the reproductive tract.
  • Culdocentesis. For this test, a needle is inserted into the pelvic cavity through the vaginal wall to get a sample of pus.

How is PID treated?

Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment based on:

  • How old you are
  • Your overall health and medical history
  • How sick you are
  • How well you can handle specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • How long t he condition is expected to last
  • Your opinion or preference

Antibiotic pills are used to treat PID, especially if it’s due to a STD. For severe infection, you may need to stay in the hospital for intravenous (IV) antibiotics. Sometimes, surgery is needed.

Key points

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of a woman’s reproductive tract. It can affect the uterus, fallopian tubes, and/or the ovaries.
  • Left untreated, chronic infection and infertility can develop.
  • It is caused by bacteria, often the same type of bacteria that causes STDs.
  • Sexually active women under age 25, and those of childbearing age are at the greatest risk of getting PID from an STD.
  • PID can cause pelvic pain, abdominal tenderness, vaginal discharge, fever, chills, and pain during urination and sex.
  • Treatment includes antibiotics, especially if you have a STD.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
  • Grantham, Paula, RN, BSN