Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the female reproductive organs that typically occurs as a complication of certain STDs. When symptoms occur, the medical community will recommend that women go to the gynecologist to receive a diagnosis, care, and treatment.

There are several types of PID, and early detection and treatment are key in reducing the symptoms and its spread.

In this article, we explain what PID is and how it is diagnosed, along with how to spot the signs and symptoms of the infection.

What is PID?

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the female reproductive organs. PID is an infection of the female reproductive organs.

Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of the female reproductive organs. One type of infection can be caused by gonorrhea, while other kinds are known to be spread by bacteria called Mycoplasma genitalium (MG).

MG is also one of the two most common STDs in the U.S.

PID refers to genital tract infections caused by gonorrhea or MG. It is one of the most common STDs, affecting over 200 million people worldwide.

It is more common in women than men and more likely to occur in women aged 15-24 than in older women.

Around 1 in every 12 women with PID will not know that they have an infection.

What are the symptoms?

Initial symptoms include pain during sexual intercourse. Initial symptoms include pain during sexual intercourse.

Early signs of PID can include:
  • pain during sex
  • pelvic or lower abdominal pain
  • changes in the vaginal discharge
  • problems urinating
  • an odorless, clear discharge


A gynecologist will start by conducting a physical examination, during which they will ask a number of questions, such as if there has been any unusual vaginal discharge, symptoms of STDs, or recent bleeding or ulcers.

If they are concerned that a woman may have PID, they may order a pelvic examination. This involves the doctor examining the vagina and cervix with a speculum to look for any signs of infection.

A test called the hymenorrhaphy is then performed to assess if the vaginal tissue has been damaged. It is a painful procedure, and it may take several attempts to achieve a result.

If a doctor thinks that a woman may have PID, they may refer her for further diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Early detection

If a doctor suspects that a woman has PID, they may refer her to have the STDs tested. A urine test can be performed to look for gonorrhea, Mycoplasma genitalium, or chlamydia.

Blood tests may be needed to check for a host of conditions, including HIV, hepatitis C, herpes, or syphilis.


Women with PID can often treat the infection with antibiotics, or the infection may go away on its own without treatment. The infections tend to respond best to those containing the antibiotic azithromycin, but these drugs should be administered under the supervision of a doctor.

PID is highly contagious, so if a woman has been exposed to the bacteria and does not follow their treatment, the infection may lead to more serious complications.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and who have symptoms of PID should avoid getting it again by abstaining from sexual activity for a few weeks or even months.

Pregnancy complications

PID can lead to problems with the pregnancy and the baby if left untreated. This may happen if women do not take the necessary precautions to prevent infection.

A woman may go into premature labor, develop pre-eclampsia, or develop other pregnancy complications. The risk of having a miscarriage or giving birth to an ill baby increases if the infection is not treated immediately.

Men who have sex with women are also at risk of developing a potentially fatal infection called HELLP syndrome, which is caused by high levels of chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Other risks

Women who have an STI can develop other health complications. This is because an STI can damage a woman’s immune system. STIs that increase the risk of pregnancy complications include syphilis, HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B, and syphilis.

The types of STIs that increase the risk of developing PID are:

In rare cases, PID may lead to miscarriage or other complications if it occurs during pregnancy. If this happens, the infection may be difficult to treat, as it is usually spread through the vagina.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid using drugs to treat PID. The antibiotics often used to treat the condition are not suitable for pregnancy.


Without treatment, PID may lead to a range of serious complications. Women with PID usually have little to no symptoms, and only those who are pregnant or who may become pregnant may have symptoms. Symptoms of PID include:

  • painful and inflamed genitals
  • pain during intercourse
  • tenderness or bleeding between periods
  • fatigue and feeling tired or feverish
  • Lack of general health

Infection can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions, such as pregnancy-induced hypertension and blood clotting disorders.

Some of the more serious complications include:
  • abdominal pain, weight loss, and vomiting
  • excessive bleeding in the first trimester
  • fever or chills
  • bleeding during and after delivery of the baby
  • poor milk production
  • baby with significant health problems

These complications can be life-threatening for the mother and the baby.


PID is curable in most cases. If a woman notices a change in the skin in her vagina or rectum, she should see her doctor.

If doctors find that the infection is bacterial, they can treat it with a course of antibiotics, or they can prescribe a different kind of antibiotic for those women who are allergic to azithromycin.

A woman should not assume that she has PID and should ask her doctor for a vaginal swab to be taken and sent to a laboratory to confirm the presence of bacteria.

PID can have an incredibly long incubation period. This means that a woman who contracts PID may only notice symptoms during a few weeks.


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