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Student Health Services

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

What is PID?

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or PID is an infection in a woman's uterus, fallopian tubes, and/or ovaries. This is not the same as a vaginal infection, which occurs only in the vagina. PID is potentially more serious, and often more difficult to treat. Some of the most common bacteria that cause PID are gonorrhea and chlamydia and are considered sexually transmitted infections (STI's). Other bacteria that cause this infection can be from a woman's intestine or vagina. Since many of the bacteria are sexually transmitted, a woman with multiple sexual partners will be at a higher risk for developing PID. Also, a woman using an IUD for contraception has a higher risk of PID than a woman who uses another method of birth control.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of PID include lower abdominal pain, low backache, fever, chills, abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding. These symptoms can occur suddenly and be quite intense or they may occur slowly and be quite mild. Severe infection may spread into the abdomen requiring hospitalization and surgery. Spread of infectious bacteria through the blood stream can even be fatal. PID can lead to infertility because of the scar tissue, which sometimes develops in the fallopian tubes, blocking them and also puts a woman at risk for an ectopic, or tubal, pregnancy. Once a woman has had a pelvic infection she is more susceptible to developing another. PID may also be the cause of persistent pelvic pain.

How is it Diagnosed?

Diagnosis usually includes a pelvic exam to check for tenderness, a microscopic evaluation of cervical and vaginal discharge, screening tests for STI's and a blood test to evaluate your body's response to the infection.

How is it Treated?

Sometimes infection is obvious, but sometimes it is a difficult diagnosis to make. Even when there is some doubt it is probably better to go ahead with treatment rather than risk an infection becoming severe. Treatment will depend on how severe the infection is. Most cases are treated with antibiotics at home, but hospitalization may be necessary if there is a pregnancy, a pelvic abscess, or if you are not responding to antibiotic treatment.

Important things to remember during your treatment for PID.

  • Be sure to take all of the medication prescribed, even if you are feeling better. Finish all of it.
  • Bed rest is advisable until the pain subsides. Rest is important to allow your body to fight the infection. Pelvic rest (no intercourse or sports activities) for two weeks is also recommended.
  • Return to the Health Center or go to an emergency room if you experience an increase in pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding. Schedule a follow-up appointment 2-3 days after you start the medication and again after the medication is completed. This is to make sure that the infection is responding to the prescribed treatment.
  • Your sexual partner(s) must be treated at the same time that you are, if the cause is an STI.
  • Tell your clinician if there is a chance you might be pregnant and be aware that the antibiotics used to treat PID can decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills.
  • Another attack of PID would be a serious threat to your health and fertility. Don't take that risk. Protect yourself and your fertility from future pelvic infections by limiting the number of sexual partners and using condoms with intercourse.

If you have ever had PID, be aware of the ectopic (tubal pregnancy) danger signals which include irregular bleeding or spotting with abdominal pain, when your period is late or after an abnormally light period, sudden intense pain or cramping in the lower abdomen (usually on one side or the other) along with fainting or dizziness that persist more than a few seconds.

Remember: call the Student Health Service if you have any questions or concerns about PID.