Pelvic inflammatory disease

Specialty of Genitourinary Medicine

What is pelvic inflammatory disease?

Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of the female reproductive organs, including the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries.

What are the symptoms?

Most women with pelvic inflammatory disease experience mild symptoms, such as:

  • heavy or painful periods
  • pain or difficulty urinating
  • abdominal pain
  • pain during sex
  • bleeding between periods
  • yellow or green vaginal discharge

In severe cases, pelvic inflammatory disease can cause:

  • fever
  • severe abdominal pain
  • nausea

If you are experiencing severe abdominal pain or a high fever, you should seek emergency medical treatment.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis of pelvic inflammatory disease is complex. At first, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and may carry out a pelvic exam.

Swabs may then be taken from your vagina and cervix to be tested in the laboratory.

Finally, you may be referred for an ultrasound or laparoscopy for further examination.

What causes pelvic inflammatory disease?

Pelvic inflammatory disease is a common disease mainly affecting sexually active women under the age of 25. It occurs when bacteria enter the upper genital tract through the cervix.

The most common way to become infected is through unprotected sex with someone carrying a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. However, it can also occur when bacteria which normally live in the vagina spread to the organs higher up, which can happen after childbirth or a miscarriage.

Can pelvic inflammatory disease be prevented?

It’s possible to reduce your risk of pelvic inflammatory disease by always using condoms with a new sexual partner, unless you know they have had a sexual health check and are free from an STI.

If you are at risk of an STI, it’s important to visit your local sexual health clinic for a test. The earlier any STIs are treated, the more likely you are to avoid PID.

Treatments for pelvic inflammatory disease

Treatment involves taking antibiotics to fight the infection. This is generally effective, providing you complete the entire course of antibiotics. In cases where you have more severe symptoms or the antibiotics aren’t working, you might need to stay in hospital to have antibiotics given to your intravenously.

The earlier you treat pelvic inflammatory disease, the less likely it is to damage your womb or ovaries.

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