DEAR DOCTOR K: I have pelvic inflammatory disease, and I’m worried this could affect my fertility.
DEAR READER: You’re right to be concerned. Pelvic inflammatory disease is the most common preventable cause of infertility in the United States. The more often a woman gets PID, the greater her risk of becoming infertile.
Most cases of PID develop from sexually transmitted diseases, usually gonorrhea or chlamydia. These two different kinds of bacteria can be passed by a man to a woman during sex.
PID is insidious: Not all women with PID have symptoms. This is particularly true for infection with chlamydia. Those who do get symptoms may experience:
• pain in the pelvis and lower abdomen
• vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor
• fever and chills
• nausea and vomiting
• pain during sexual intercourse
If you have symptoms that might indicate PID, it’s important to see a doctor. If the doctor diagnoses PID, you should begin treatment immediately.
PID can cause infertility by producing scarring that damages or blocks the fallopian tubes. If an egg released by the ovary can’t pass through the fallopian tubes, it can’t get to the uterus to be fertilized.
How can you prevent future attacks of PID and the infertility that it can potentially cause? If you are in a relationship with one uninfected partner, you are unlikely to be reinfected. If it’s not clear whether your sexual partner or partners are free of these infections, always use a condom during sexual intercourse to prevent another episode of PID. And make sure your sexual partners have been treated for STDs.
If you and your partner want to have kids and you are having trouble getting pregnant, see your gynecologist. You may need to have special testing to see if your tubes have been scarred by PID. If they have, there are surgical procedures that may help. Finally, in vitro fertilization can be an answer for infertility due to scarring from PID.