January 2016, Science Department Staff
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is a serious complication of bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in sexually active females. PID occurs when the bacteria that causes chlamydia, gonorrhea or bacterial vaginosis infects the uterus, the fallopian tubes, the ovaries and/or the pelvic cavity. The resulting infection can cause serious damage to the woman’s body that can result in life-threatening conditions, such as ectopic pregnancy and liver disease, as well as other serious conditions, such as chronic pelvic pain, and infertility.
Treating PID is very important, but treatment does not guarantee that permanent damage will not occur. Antibiotics that treat both chlamydia and gonorrhea are used in treatment and sometimes hospitalization is required if the patient is pregnant or if she has not shown improvement after three days of antibiotic therapy. It is also very important to treat all sexual partners and to abstain from intercourse until treatment is complete. Additionally, all PID patients should be screened for HIV.1
Preventing PID is preferable to treating PID. The most effective way of preventing PID is the same as preventing sexually transmitted infections; to abstain from sexual activity until and unless one is in a stable, mutually monogamous relationship (both partners are faithful to one another) and both partners are free from infection. If one partner has had a previous bacterial infection, it is important that a repeat test is done after treatment is complete to be sure that the infection has cleared.
Younger women (under age 26) are at increased risk for sexually transmitted infections due in part to the immaturity of the cervix. Therefore, all sexually active women under the age of 26, should be screened for both chlamydia and gonorrhea at least yearly. Anytime a sexually active female of any age changes or adds a sexual partner, she should also be tested.1 Even if condoms have been used correctly with every sexual act, it must be understood that condoms are only effective in preventing the spread of infection about half of the time.2
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24,000 women become infertile each year because of undiagnosed sexually transmitted infections.3 Unfortunately, sexually transmitted infections are becoming even more prevalent. Statistics for 2014 show that chlamydia and gonorrhea (the STIs responsible for many cases of PID) are both on the rise.4
Women of all ages, who are having sex outside of marriage or a similarly monogamous relationship, need to be made aware of the dangers associated with common sexually transmitted diseases. Often, there are few or no symptoms that a woman is aware of until significant damage to her reproductive organs has occurred. Responsible sexual activity goes far beyond condom use. Open and honest communication with health care providers is essential for reproductive health, as is screening and testing for STIs.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2015” MMWR Recommendations and Reports/ Vol. 64/No. 3
- Crosby RA, Charnigo RA, Weathers C, et al, “Condom Effectiveness against Non-viral Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” Sexually Transmitted Infections 2012;88(7): 484-489
- CDC, “Sexually Transmitted Infections Among Young Americans”, http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/youth-sti-infographic.pdf accessed Jan, 2016
- National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, “Reported Cases of Sexually Transmitted Diseases on the Rise, Some at Alarming Rate,” http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2015/std-surveillance-report-press-release.html