Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, May 2011.
This factsheet is for women who have pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or who would like information about it.
PID is an infection of the female reproductive organs, usually caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Although PID can often be treated quickly and effectively, if left untreated, it can cause infertility.
PID is a common health problem – in England and Wales, it's the reason for one in 60 visits to a GP by women under 45.
PID is usually caused by an infection that starts in your vagina and cervix (neck of your womb) and spreads to your womb (uterus), ovaries and fallopian tubes (the tubes that go from your ovaries to your womb).
PID can become a chronic condition and pain in your pelvis can persist. A chronic illness is one that lasts a long time, sometimes for the rest of the affected person's life. When describing an illness, the term 'chronic' refers to how long a person has it, not to how serious a condition is.
PID can affect your quality of life and also your ability to have children.
Most women with PID have no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include:
These symptoms aren't always caused by PID but if you have them, see your GP or visit your local sexual health clinic. It's very important to seek help early to reduce your chances of developing complications.
There are a number of possible complications of PID. These include the following.
PID is most commonly caused by an STI, usually chlamydia or gonorrhoea. You can catch an STI by having sex with an infected partner – your partner may not know that he or she has an infection. Young women who have a new sexual partner, have had numerous sexual partners or have had unprotected sex are more at risk of STIs. Although women in same sex relationships are less at risk of STIs, it's still possible for these conditions to be passed on through oral sex or by sharing sex toys.
Rarely infections other than STIs can cause PID. Bacteria that are usually found in your vagina and on your cervix can sometimes get into your womb and spread to your fallopian tubes, ovaries and surrounding tissues. Although the bacteria are harmless to your vagina, they can cause an infection in other parts of your body.
You're also more likely to develop PID:
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and your medical history. He or she will also examine you.
Your GP may take some specimens from inside your vagina and cervix to test for bacteria. It's a simple procedure. Your GP will first insert a speculum into your vagina to hold it open, similar to when you have a smear test. He or she will take a cotton wool swab. The swabs will be sent to a laboratory to be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhoea. You will also be offered routine tests for other STIs.
If there is a possibility you could be pregnant, your GP may recommend that you have a pregnancy test because the symptoms of PID can be very similar to those of ectopic pregnancy. He or she may also test a sample of your urine to check for a urinary tract infection.
Your doctor may refer you to a specialist for further tests including:
If your GP suspects that you have PID, he or she will prescribe antibiotics for you to start taking straight away, even though the test results probably won't be ready for a few days. This is because the long-term effects of PID can be serious, so it's best to start treatment as soon as possible.
Your GP will usually prescribe a two-week course of antibiotics to treat the infection. Always ask your GP for advice and read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. It’s important to finish your treatment before you have sex again. If you have an IUD in place, your GP may recommend that you have it removed if your condition doesn't improve with antibiotic treatment.
Your GP will usually speak to you over the phone or ask to come back a few days later to see if your symptoms are getting better and to talk through your test results. He or she may then want to see you two to four weeks later to see if your treatment has been successful.
If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
If your symptoms are severe or you're pregnant, you may be admitted to hospital for further treatment. You will receive antibiotics through a drip for the first 24 hours, followed by tablets.
The bacteria that cause PID can leave scar tissue and abscesses (collections of infected fluid) on the lining of your fallopian tubes. Surgery can reduce the risk of damage to the fallopian tubes and your other reproductive organs. A laparoscopy procedure may be used to repair blocked or damaged tubes by removing the abnormal tissue on the lining of your fallopian tubes and draining any abscesses.
If you have a regular sexual partner, it’s important for him or her to make an appointment to see a GP for tests and treatment. Wait until you have both completed your treatment before you have sex to prevent you reinfecting each other.
Your GP may ask for details of your sexual history during the past six months or more. This will be in complete confidence. If you visit a sexual health clinic, staff there can contact your past partners for you.
The best way to reduce the risk of STIs that often cause PID is to use a barrier method of contraception. Condoms reduce your risk of getting an STI, but they can't completely prevent all infections.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see Common questions.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
We can help you detect any problems early with our Complete Health Assessment which involves up to 32 individual tests including breast and cervical checks for women or call 0845 600 3458 quoting ref. HFS100.
See a Private GP in confidence to discuss any concerns you may have about your health or your family's health or call 0845 600 3458 quoting ref. HFS GP.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.
Publication date: May 2011