Women With Pelvic Inflammatory Disease at Risk of Infertility

A long-term study looks at the secondary health issues faced by those who suffer from pelvic inflammatory disease, which about one in eight women in the U.S. contract before the age of 20

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Women who suffer from pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) may be at higher risk of infertility, according to a new long-term study. About one in eight girls contract PID before the age of 20 in this country.

The inflammatory condition develops when bacteria move up from the vagina to the higher reproductive organs like the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It used to be that most cases of PID developed as a result of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like chlamydia and gonorrhea, but it's now known that other microbes like Mycoplasma genitalium are responsible for more cases.

PID can also occur after childbirth, insertion of an intrauterine device (IUD), or miscarriage. Symptoms include pain in the pelvis, vaginal discharge, fever, fatigue, menstrual problems, and pain or bleeding during or after intercourse.

The new study followed over 800 women with mild to moderate PID, who were between the ages of 14 and 38. The research team tracked how many bouts of PID the women had over a period of seven years along with their symptoms, how often they were infertile, and how often they got pregnant.

About 20 percent of the women with PID were infertile, 57 percent got pregnant, and 43 percent reported chronic pelvic pain. Women who had repeated bouts of PID were twice as likely to suffer from infertility as women whose PID never returned after being treated initially. And women with repeated episodes of PID were five times as likely to report pain as women without PID.

"The fact that close to one-fifth of these girls were already showing signs of infertility is quite alarming," said author Maria Trent, "and might mean that the numbers will increase as these girls get older and actively try to get pregnant."

Women should not think that PID is a thing of the past. It is very important to continue to protect oneself from STDs by using condoms. "When it comes to [pelvic inflammatory disease]," said Trend, "we must remain as vigilant as ever. Even though PID has changed over time, it is still very much a disease that can have detrimental consequences to a woman's childbearing ability and can lead to chronic pelvic pain down the road."

If you are concerned about PID, or STDs, it is important to go see your doctor as soon as possible for correct diagnosis and treatment.

Trent is a researcher and clinician at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. The study was published in the September 2011 issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

Image: wanchai/Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a health journalist and an editor at The Doctor Will See You Now.

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