In 2013, 88,000 American women between the ages of 15 and 44 were diagnosed with pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID. If left untreated, PID can cause permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive organs and even lead to infertility.
If you’re a sexually active female, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of this condition and to get tested ASAP if you suspect that you have PID.
What is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs, including the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes. PID occurs when bacteria travel up through the vagina and into the reproductive organs.
PID typically occurs when an STI (sexually transmitted infection) is left untreated. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the two most common STIs that lead to PID.
Bacteria from an STI move up from the vagina or cervix and into the reproductive organs. PID is considered a serious complication of an STI.
How Long Does It Take for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease to Develop?
How long does an STI have to go untreated before PID develops? There is no concrete answer to this question, as it varies from one person to the next.
Some people develop symptoms of PID after just a few weeks. For others, it can take months for symptoms to appear.
Common Symptoms of PID
The most common symptoms of PID include:
- Painful sex
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Lower back pain
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Frequent urination
- Painful bowel movements or urination
It’s important to note that PID can spread beyond the reproductive tract, causing serious and potentially deadly complications. More than 200,000 women are hospitalized each year because of PID and more than 150 of them die.
How Often Does PID Cause Infertility?
PID can cause a number of complications, including:
- Tubo-ovarian abscess, or TOA
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Tubal factor infertility
PID can permanently scar the fallopian tubes, which blocks the tubes. About 12% of women become infertile after one episode of PID. After three PID episodes, the rate of infertility jumps to 50%.
Along with infertility, PID can also cause an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when a fertilized egg gets trapped in the fallopian tube and starts to grow. If left untreated, the tube may burst and cause internal bleeding or even death.
If left untreated, chlamydia can cause a number of complications. It’s difficult to determine how long it takes for the infection to cause damage because every person and body is different.
Some people have strong immune systems that can keep the infection at bay for longer, while others will struggle.
If the bacteria move from the vaginal canal into the uterus, the infection will develop into PID and cause damage. Chlamydia bacteria can also inflame the lining of the uterus, causing scarring. When scar tissue develops, it can make it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterine lining.
The trouble with chlamydia is that most people don’t realize they have it until it’s already caused some damage. In fact, people don’t have symptoms 70% of the time.
One in five women with chlamydia will develop PID.
How Long Does Gonorrhea Last Untreated?
Gonorrhea affects each person differently. The effects of the STI will depend on the strength of the immune system and whether the strain of gonorrhea is resistant to antibiotics.
But what happens if the infection goes untreated? Gonorrhea is often asymptomatic, meaning most people don’t experience any symptoms. To make matters worse, the symptoms may come and go, leading you to believe that the infection cleared on its own.
In most cases, gonorrhea does not clear up on its own – nor will chlamydia.
The only way to know for sure if you have either of these STIs is to get tested. Ideally, you want to get tested before having sex with any new partner. Both partners should be tested to ensure that both are free of STIs.
If that’s not possible, get tested after sex with a new partner, whether it was protected or unprotected sex.
How is PID Diagnosed and Treated?
Doctors typically diagnose PID through a pelvic exam. You may also be tested for gonorrhea, chlamydia and other STIs, as they often cause PID. Samples of your blood, urine and vaginal fluid may also be taken.
There are some cases where doctors will need to perform other procedures or tests. These might include an endometrial biopsy, ultrasound or a laparoscopy.
With a laparoscopy, the doctor will insert a tiny camera through a small incision in your belly button. The camera will allow the doctor to look at your reproductive organs.
PID can be treated, and if it’s caught early on, you may be able to avoid some of the damaging complications of this disease.
Pelvic inflammatory disease is typically treated with broad spectrum antibiotics. There are several types of antibiotics that can treat this STI.
Unfortunately, treatment cannot reverse any damage that has been done by the infection. If there is scarring in the fallopian tubes or any other damage to the reproductive organs, the effects will last a lifetime.
It’s not uncommon for symptoms to disappear before the round of antibiotics is complete, but it’s important to take all of the prescribed medicine to ensure that the infection is cured.
Both partners should be treated to minimize the risk of re-infection, even if the partner has no symptoms.
During treatment, it’s important to abstain from sexual intercourse until the treatment is complete. All sexual partners should be notified so that they may get tested and treated if necessary.
If the infection is severe or you have had PID for a long time, you may need additional treatment. Surgery may be required in some cases to fix or remove parts of the reproductive organs.
Practicing safe sex is the best way to prevent pelvic inflammatory disease. Latex condoms can prevent STIs and reduce the risk of PID.
Getting tested is of the utmost importance if you’re sexually active. Studies have found that screening of young sexually active women decreases the incidence of PID.
Knowing your status will allow you to take care of the problem early on instead of waiting until symptoms appear and the damage is already done. Damage caused by PID is irreversible and could affect your fertility, so don’t wait to get tested or treated. There is no shame in getting tested or treated – STIs are more common than you think. The infection will not go away on its own, so getting the help you need right away will help you avoid complications.