Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection in a person’s uterus, fallopian tubes, and sometimes ovaries. Without treatment, it can lead to ectopic pregnancy and difficulty becoming pregnant. The infection will not go away on its own.

Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics for people with PID to cure the infection, but they may not be able to reverse any damage the disease has done to the person’s reproductive organs.

This article explains what PID is and how doctors treat it. We also discuss what signs to look for and how to reduce the risk of contracting PID.

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People develop PID when harmful bacteria travel up the reproductive tract. Bacteria from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia and gonorrhea are the most common causes.

When the immune system attacks the infection, the person’s affected organs can swell. This swelling, or inflammation, can scar the organs, leading to permanent damage.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explain that PID is usually a complication of an untreated STI. They recommend that people receive regular screening tests for STIs, as many people do not experience any symptoms.

Even if a person does not experience symptoms, untreated PID can have serious long-term effects. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) estimates that as many as 1 in 10 people with PID become infertile. Those who do become pregnant have an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.

Some people with PID develop abscesses in their fallopian tubes or ovaries. If these burst, or rupture, the person may develop sepsis, a life threatening condition that can lead to organ failure and death.

PID will not go away on its own. If a person does not receive treatment, the infection will worsen. The CDC stresses the importance of prompt treatment with antibiotics to cure the infection.

Delaying treatment increases the risk of long-term damage to a person’s reproductive organs.

PID symptoms tend to be vague, and many people experience them only mildly, if at all.

The Office on Women’s Health describes pain in the lower abdomen as the most common symptom, although it may feel like just a mild ache.

Other symptoms may include:

Most people with PID have previously had an STI, and researchers most commonly associate PID with chlamydia and gonorrhea infections.

Gonorrheal PID infections are usually more severe, but any type can damage a person’s reproductive organs.

According to the CDC, although one-third to one-half of all PID cases have a link to STIs, other microorganisms can also cause or contribute to PID. The CDC recommends treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics to target all potential pathogens in all people with PID.

Having had chlamydia or gonorrhea significantly increases a person’s risk of PID, but age is also a factor.

According to ACOG, women who are sexually active and younger than 25 are more likely to develop PID.

Other risk factors include:

  • having multiple sexual partners
  • having a sexual partner who has multiple partners
  • having had PID in the past
  • not using condoms correctly or at all
  • recently having an intrauterine device implanted, especially within the previous few weeks
  • douching

No single test can diagnose PID. Doctors rely on signs, symptoms, physical examinations, STI testing, and a person’s STI history.

Doctors usually perform a physical exam and test a person for STIs before diagnosing PID.

They will also rule out other potential causes, such as urinary tract infections and appendicitis.

During the exam, doctors look for any signs of tenderness or inflammation of the person’s reproductive organs, as well as any unusual discharge or signs of abscesses.

A doctor may recommend an ultrasound if they believe a person’s fallopian tubes are inflamed. They will use this scan to look for any ovarian abscesses that may need additional treatment.

However, even if the ultrasound shows typical results, a person may still have PID and need treatment.

Doctors also consider a person’s sexual history and overall health. Being open and honest with the doctor will help a person get the treatment they need.

Doctors aim to cure a person’s PID before it can permanently damage the reproductive organs.

The CDC stresses the importance of prompt treatment, recommending that doctors prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat the infection.

The person’s recent sexual partners will also need screening for STIs and should receive treatment if necessary.

During treatment, people must abstain from sexual activity to avoid contracting the infection again.

If doctors suspect that a person has abscesses, they may recommend hospitalization.

With prompt treatment, antibiotics can cure PID infections. However, they cannot reverse any damage to a person’s organs.

According to ACOG, scar tissue can block a person’s fallopian tubes, preventing the fertilization of eggs. Scarring can also block a fertilized egg’s passage into the uterus, increasing the risk of an ectopic pregnancy, in which the egg develops in the fallopian tube.

Long-term damage can lead to chronic, or long lasting, pelvic pain.

It may not be possible to prevent PID, but a person can reduce the risk by:

  • undergoing regular STI tests and receiving treatment when necessary
  • abstaining from all sexual activity, whether oral, anal, or vaginal
  • limiting the number of sexual partners or being in a mutually monogamous relationship
  • using condoms or another barrier method properly every time during sexual intercourse
  • avoiding douching

Anyone with any symptoms of PID should talk with a doctor as soon as possible.

PID will not go away on its own. People need antibiotics to cure the infection and minimize the risk of organ damage. The CDC stresses the importance of early antibiotic treatment.

If a person knows or suspects that they or their sexual partners have an STI, they should consult a doctor. Untreated STIs increase the risk of developing PID.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about treating PID.

Can you get rid of PID without antibiotics?

The CDC clearly states that people need antibiotics to kill the bacteria responsible for PID and reduce the risk of long-term organ damage.

The CDC does not recommend using other treatments to get rid of PID.

What happens if pelvic inflammatory disease is untreated?

Without treatment, PID can have severe negative effects.

Even delaying treatment can result in long-term complications, including chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancies, and infertility.

Antibiotics can cure the infection, but they cannot undo any damage to a person’s reproductive organs. Prompt treatment lowers that risk.

PID is a serious inflammatory infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

It occurs when harmful bacteria travel through the vagina or cervix to these organs. PID has a strong link to STIs, particularly chlamydia and gonorrhea.

PID always needs prompt medical treatment, as it can cause scarring in the fallopian tubes, increasing a person’s risk of ectopic pregnancy and infertility. PID can also lead to abscesses.

Doctors must treat people with PID with broad-spectrum antibiotics. The infection will not clear up on its own.