What is pelvic inflammatory disease?
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) affects the female reproductive organs including the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries. It is a common condition that mainly affects sexually active women aged 15 – 24. Most cases are caused by bacterial infection that begins in the vagina or cervix before spreading further up.
It is estimated that around 25% of cases of PID are caused by a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea or mycoplasma genitalium. In other cases it is thought to be caused by bacteria that normally occur in the vagina passing to the reproductive organs further up.
Symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease
Some of the symptoms (signs) of pelvic inflammatory disease can be very mild or linked to other conditions making it hard to identify. Many women will have no symptoms at all. Where symptoms do occur, they can be;
- Pain in the pelvis (below the tummy button)
- Pain during sex and sometimes bleeding afterwards
- Pain when peeing (urinating)
- Unusually heavy or painful periods
- Bleeding between periods
- Unusual vaginal discharge (if it’s brown, red, green or smells bad)
Occasionally, women can experience severe symptoms such as very bad pain low down in their stomach, fever (high temperature) and feeling or being sick.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms contact a Devon Sexual Health clinic near you for advice or book an appointment. Delaying treatment can increase your risk of getting serious or long term complications.
Treatment of pelvic inflammatory disease
Antibiotics are usually used to treat pelvic inflammatory disease. The type of antibiotics will depend on the cause of the infection but will usually be an initial injection followed by a 14 day course of tablets. You need to take the full course of antibiotics, even if you have started to feel better. You should also avoid having sex, including oral, during this time until the infection has gone.
It is important that any sexual partners are also tested and treated to avoid reinfection. We can contact them anonymously on your behalf if it helps.
What should I do if I think I have pelvic inflammatory disease?
If you think you have pelvic inflammatory disease, you should book an appointment at a Devon Sexual Health clinic near you. The doctor or nurse at the clinic will need to examine you and do some tests to find out the cause of the infection.
Your doctor will ask you some questions about your lifestyle and your sexual health. It is likely that they will also carry out a pelvic examination to check for anything unusual. They will use a swab (a bit like a cotton bud) to take samples from the inside of your vagina and cervix. These are then used to look for signs of a bacterial infection and to identify the bacteria responsible. They may also take a blood test and request a urine sample.
How can I avoid getting pelvic inflammatory disease?
Around 25% of cases of PID are caused by an STI. You can reduce the risk of getting pelvic inflammatory disease by limiting the number of sexual partners you have, using condoms, having sexual health check-ups at the start or end of a relationship and by being aware of your partner’s sexual health and sexual history. If you have had PID before, have a history of other STIs, or have recently had sex with a partner with an STI, then you are more likely to get pelvic inflammatory disease.
If left untreated, PID can cause long term complications such as on-going pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy (where a fertilised egg begins to grow in a fallopian tube) or infertility. You can prevent long-term complications by making sure that you get treatment as early as possible.