Find out more about this little talked about condition.

Pelvic inflammatory disease is a common condition that affects around 5% of women during their reproductive years. Affecting the upper reproductive organs – the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and womb – it can have serious consequences if left untreated. Although a reasonably common condition, pelvic inflammatory disease or PID is not often talked about in the media and many women have never heard of it. It’s important to pay attention to your body and report unusual symptoms to ensure that you are not left facing serious health consequences or infertility.

Here is everything you need to know about pelvic inflammatory disease and the symptoms you should be aware of.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

What is pelvic inflammatory disease?

Pelvic inflammatory disease is a serious bacterial infection of the reproductive organs and can be a consequence of sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea and chlamydia. It can lead to pain, discharge, a high fever, and serious illness. Untreated pelvic inflammatory disease is linked with ongoing infertility issues.

What causes pelvic inflammatory disease?

Pelvic inflammatory disease is caused when an infection develops in the upper genital tract. This infection is caused by microorganisms, generally introduced by sexual activity and the transmission of an STI. The most common causes of pelvic inflammatory disease are gonorrhoea and chlamydia. It’s thought about 10% of chlamydia cases turn into PID. However, PID is not always caused by STIs and there are a wide range of bacteria that can cause the infection. Douching can significantly increase the risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease and should be avoided.

What are the symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease?

Some women have no symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease which is why it is important to undergo regular STI testing if you are sexually active. However, symptoms can include:

  • Pain and lower stomach discomfort
  • Pain when passing urine
  • A high fever
  • Unusual vaginal discharge – it may be yellow or green and carry a strong odour
  • Vaginal soreness
  • Heavy periods
  • Bleeding between periods or before or after sex

The consequences of pelvic inflammatory disease only get worse as time goes on. If you notice any of these symptoms or are worried that you may have contracted an STI, it’s important to contact a doctor as soon as possible.

How could pelvic inflammatory disease affect my fertility?

Pelvic inflammatory disease, especially if untreated over time, can cause scarring and narrowing of the fallopian tubes. This can make it difficult for women to conceive and increase the chances of ectopic pregnancy. Damage to fertility becomes more pronounced the longer the infection is present, and this is one of the reasons it is important to seek treatment as soon as you notice symptoms. It’s estimated that around 1 in 10 women become infertile as a result of pelvic inflammatory disease.

How is pelvic inflammatory disease diagnosed?

There is no one single test for pelvic inflammatory disease as it is caused by a wide range of bacteria. Therefore, diagnosis will be based on an internal examination, discussion of sexual history and details of any symptoms. Swabs may be taken during this process and sent to a lab for testing. The examination may be uncomfortable if you are experiencing vaginal tenderness. A doctor may also carry out an STI test to support a diagnosis. In more extreme or complex cases, an internal ultrasound or laparoscopy may be undertaken to confirm PID.

What treatments are available for pelvic inflammatory disease?

Treatment for pelvic inflammatory disease is likely to include a range of broad-spectrum antibiotics to address the different types of bacteria that may have caused the initial infection. Infections which are caught in the early stages can normally be treated quickly and effectively. More complex infections may require an antibiotic injection or intravenous antibiotic treatment in hospital. It’s very important to complete the prescribed course of treatment, even when you are feeling better, to ensure that the infection has fully cleared.

During your recovery, you may be advised to stay in bed for several days, to drink plenty of water and to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Serious PID cases can have a severe impact on your day-to-day health and it’s important to ensure you take time to rest and recuperate.

If your symptoms do not start to reduce within three days of treatment, it’s important to contact your doctor for further advice.

Can I reduce the risk of contracting pelvic inflammatory disease?

The risks of pelvic inflammatory disease are increased for women who are under 25, who have had more than one sexual partner, and who have engaged in unprotected sex (without a condom). Douching is another significant risk factor. You can decrease your chances of contracting PID by:

  • Always using a condom during sex
  • Never practicing vaginal douching
  • Undergoing regular STI tests (if you are sexually active)
  • Ensuring your partner/s undergo regular STI tests

Can men get pelvic inflammatory disease?

Men cannot get pelvic inflammatory disease, but they can contract and spread the STIs that commonly trigger the condition. If you are diagnosed with PID as a result of a suspected STI then it’s important to contact any recent sexual partners and encourage them to get tested. This can be done anonymously through your local sexual health clinic if preferred.