What is PID?

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a common condition which affects women’s upper genital tract, the uterus (womb), fallopian tubes and ovaries. One in 60 doctor visits of women under the age of 45 in England and Wales is about PID, and it affects mostly sexually active women between the ages of 15 and 24.

What Are the Symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease?

In many women, PID doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms. The symptoms that do occur are often mild that they’re easily be overlooked or mistaken for something else. Possible symptoms include:

  • bleeding after having sex
  • bleeding between periods
  • heavier and/or more painful periods
  • pain around the lower abdomen and pelvic area
  • pain during urination
  • pain during sex that feels as if it’s deep inside the pelvis
  • yellow or green, sometimes smelly, vaginal discharge

More serious symptoms of PID include severe abdominal pain, feeling or being sick and a high temperature. If you suffer any of these symptoms, you should visit your doctor or sexual health clinic immediately. If the pain is very severe, visit your the A&E department at your local hospital

Is PID a Sexually Transmitted Infection?

PID itself is not a sexually transmitted infection, however it can be caused by bacteria entering your womb and spreading to the fallopian tubes, ovaries and surrounding area. Possible underlying infections include chlamydia or gonorrhoea.

If you have recently had an intrauterine device (IUD) or coil inserted or have had a pregnancy termination you may also be at a higher risk of developing PID for a few weeks afterwards.

Who is at risk of PID?

If you have a sexually transmitted infection, or have had one in the past, this puts you at greater risk of developing PID.

If you have had it before, you are have a higher risk of developing it again than a woman who hasn’t.

Sexually active women under the age of 25 are more likely to develop PID than older women, as are women who became sexually active at an early age.

Women who have a high number of sexual partners are also at greater risk.

How is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease Diagnosed?

When you visit your doctor or a sexual health clinic they will ask you about the symptoms you’ve experienced and ask you questions about your sexual history, as well as your general medical history. You will also need to be examined.

Swabs will be taken from your vagina and cervix (this is similar to when you have a smear test) which are sent to be tested for infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, as well as other bacteria. You may also be offered a blood test to check for other sexually transmitted infections and a urine test to check for a urinary tract infection.

You might be advised to take a pregnancy test too - some symptoms of PID are similar to the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy.

If your doctor isn’t sure that PID is causing the symptoms, they may also suggest other tests such as a pelvic or transvaginal ultrasound scan, a biopsy or a laparoscopy (a test using keyhole surgery to look at your fallopian tubes, ovaries and womb).

How is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease Treated?

PID is easily treated if it’s caught early, with antibiotics from the doctor or sexual health clinic. It can be harder to treat if you delay seeking treatment. In most cases you’ll be given a 14-day course of antibiotics, and occasionally you may be given an injection too. Make sure you tell your doctor if there is a chance you could be pregnant, as some antibiotics aren’t suitable for pregnant women. If the infection is very severe you may have to go to hospital for an intravenous antibiotic drip.

You can use over the counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to deal with any pelvic or abdominal pain.

You might be asked to go for a follow-up appointment three days after you start taking the antibiotics.If the antibiotics are working, you might be asked to come back to the doctor or clinic at the end of the course,to make sure the treatment has worked.

How is PID Prevented?

Because the main cause of PID are untreated STIs, the easiest way to prevent it is to avoid catching an STI.

  • In order to stay safe:Use barrier methods of birth control such as condoms every time you have sex - even if you are using another type of contraception.
  • If you have multiple sexual partners, don’t have an Intrauterine Device (IUD) or Intrauterine System (IUS) such as the Mirena coil fitted.
  • If you notice any of the signs of PID or another sexually transmitted disease, get treatment as soon as possible.

Can PID Cause Infertility?

PID can cause scarring and abscesses in the fallopian tubes, which may lead to problems in becoming pregnant in the future. It’s thought that around ten per cent  of women with PID will become infertile as a result, and the risks are higher in women who have PID more than once or who put off getting treatment. Getting PID treated properly and quickly is key. However,a long term study carried out in the US showed that women who had been successfully treated for PID had the same pregnancy rates as women who had never had it.

Can PID Cause Ectopic Pregnancy?

Although it’s not a direct cause of ectopic pregnancy, PID can cause scarring and blockages in your fallopian tubes which make an ectopic pregnancy more likely.  If you suspect that you may have PID, you should visit a doctor as soon as possible because the longer you delay getting it treated, the more your risk of having an ectopic pregnancy increases.

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