Pelvic Inflammatory Disease Doubles Risk of Infertility in Women, Study Shows

If pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) strikes a woman more than once, it can double her risk of infertility, and quadruple her risk of chronic pelvic pain, a new study shows. The researchers also found that among teenage girls, repeated bouts of the disease can increase the risk of chronic pelvic pain by fivefold.

To study the long-term consequences of the disease, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore monitored 831 women between the ages 14 and 38 for seven years, following their initial PID diagnosis. The participants initially had mild to moderate PID, and one in five had recurring PID episodes.

The findings showed that nearly one-fifth of the subjects were infertile, and 43 percent reported chronic pelvic pain. Women with recurrent PID were four times as likely to report chronic pelvic pain, as well as nearly twice as likely to report infertility as women who had only one PID episode.

Infections lead to PID

PID is a complication of sexually transmitted infections (STI), and is characterized by inflammation of the uterus, fallopian tubes or other reproductive organs. It can also cause chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy.

In the past, chlamydia and gonorrhea and were the main causes of PID, but recent research shows these STIs make up about a third of PID cases today, and other pathogens such as Mycoplasma genitalium are now causing many of the current cases. PID affects more than 800,000 U.S. women each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with one in 10 developing infertility.

"When it comes to PID, we must remain as vigilant as ever," study researcher Dr. Maria Trent, of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, said in a statement. "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."

Teen girls and infertility

Among the teen participants, nearly 40 percent reported chronic pelvic pain, according to the findings, which were published in September in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Teens with recurrent PID also had a fivefold increased risk of chronic pelvic pain, compared with their PID-free counterparts.

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

Pass it on: Recurrent pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can double a woman's risk of infertility and quadruple her risk of chronic pelvic pain.

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Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.