What is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is an infection of the female reproductive organs including the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries. It’s a common condition which mostly affects sexually active women, aged 15 to 24.
It can be treated quickly and effectively but, left untreated, PID can become a long-term condition and lead to infertility. If you have had PID, your risk of an ectopic pregnancy increases because PID can lead to a blockage in your fallopian tubes. This prevents an egg from passing through into your womb as it normally would normally.
Men can’t get PID, but they can catch or pass on an STI that can cause PID in women.
What are the symptoms?
Most women have mild symptoms that may include one or more of the following:
- Pain around the pelvis or lower abdomen (tummy)
- Discomfort or pain during sex that’s you can feel deep inside the pelvis
- Pain peeing
- Bleeding between periods and after sex
- Heavy periods
- Painful periods
- Unusual vaginal discharge, especially if it’s yellow or green
A few women become very ill with:
- Severe lower abdominal pain
- A high temperature (fever)
- Nausea and vomiting
PID isn’t always the cause of these symptoms but, if you have them, see your GP or local sexual health clinic. Seeking help early is critical to reduce your risk of developing complications.
How do you catch it?
In most cases, PID is caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea. STIs are passed on by having sex without a condom with an infected partner. The infected partner may or may not know that he or she has an STI because many people have no symptoms.
PID develops when the bacteria that are usually found in your vagina and on your cervix (neck of your womb), travel up into your womb and spread to your fallopian tubes, ovaries and surrounding tissues. These bacteria are harmless to your vagina but can cause infections in other parts of your body.
How do you prevent it?
To reduce your risk of getting STIs that often cause PID, you should take steps to avoid getting infected like using a condom for all sexual encounters and not sharing sex toys. Although condoms do reduce your risk of getting an STI, they can’t completely prevent all infections.
How do you get tested?
Your GP or sexual health clinic clinician will ask about your symptoms, medical and sexual history. They will also examine you to check for any tenderness, abnormal vaginal discharge and to take some samples for testing. The examination usually includes putting a device called a speculum into your vagina to hold it open. This is very similar to having a smear test. They will then use a cotton wool swab to take one or more samples.
PID can be difficult to diagnose so other tests may also be required to look for signs of infection or inflammation, or to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. These tests may include:
- A urine or blood test
- A pregnancy test
- An ultrasound scan
What treatment is available?
If diagnosed early, PID can be treated with a course of antibiotics, often as an injection as well as tablets. You may be given antibiotics before your test results are ready if your doctor thinks you have PID and wants to start treatment as soon as possible to reduce the long-term health risk.
It’s important to complete the whole course of antibiotics and to avoid having sex during this time until you are given the all-clear.
Your recent sexual partners also need to be tested and treated to stop the STI that caused PID from recurring, or being spread to others. You can tell them yourself or, if you prefer, your sexual health clinic can support you to get in contact with these people anonymously.
- BAASH (British Association for Sexual Health and HIV) has a comprehensive patient information leaflet on Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- NHS Choices has lots of information about STIs including a specific page on Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- Brook has more information and advice on STIs written for people under 25 on their website