Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Dr Kathryn Basford

Medically reviewed by

Dr Kathryn Basford

Last reviewed: 10 May 2019

Symptoms, causes, and treatment of PID

2 woman sat on wooden steps talking about pelvic inflammatory disease

Key takeaways

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a genital infection that is more common in young, sexually active women

  • PID can have a number of symptoms affecting the stomach area, discharge, urination, sex, and your periods

  • PID is usually caused by bacterial infections in the vagina that then spread to your cervix and higher (e.g. womb and fallopian tubes)

  • PID can be a serious disease, which is why it’s important to diagnose and treat with antibiotics

  • PID can go on to affect your fertility and can cause complications if it occurs during pregnancy

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of a woman’s upper genital tract, which includes your womb, ovaries and fallopian tubes. It’s a common condition that mainly affects young, sexually active women.

If you catch the signs early enough, PID can be treated quickly and easily with antibiotics. In rarer cases (around 1 in 10), PID can cause infertility or problems with pregnancy.

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What is PID?

PID is pelvic inflammatory disease that affects women. It is a bacterial infection of the upper genital tract, which includes your womb, ovaries and fallopian tubes.

PID is thought to be very common. It mostly affects women aged 15 to 24 who are sexually active. PID can be tricky to diagnose, but if you experience any symptoms or have any severe pelvic pain, you should speak to your doctor.

What are the symptoms of PID?

Quite often, PID won’t have any obvious symptoms. However, most women with PID will experience one or more of the following, mild symptoms:

  • painful or uncomfortable sex (deep within the pelvis)
  • pelvic or tummy pain
  • painful urination
  • irregular bleeding (spotting between periods, or after sex)
  • painful, heavy periods
  • unusual vaginal discharge (greenish yellow)

A small number of women will have more severe symptoms, such as:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • high temperature or fever
  • extremely painful lower abdomen (tummy)

If you have any severe pain, you should seek medical attention from your local hospital as soon as possible.

What are the causes of PID?

In most cases, PID is caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea.

In a small number of cases (less than 15%) it’s caused by other types of bacteria that live in the genital tract.

How do you test for PID?

Testing for PID can be tricky. If you experience any of the symptoms of PID, visit your doctor as soon as possible for a full diagnosis.

Your doctor will diagnose PID based on a discussion of your symptoms. They will then carry out a quick physical examination in order to test for tender areas inside your vagina.

They may also take swabs from the neck of your womb (cervix) and vagina. However, the results from these swabs do not always provide a definitive diagnosis. A negative swab result doesn’t always mean you don’t have PID.

Can you treat PID?

If you catch it in an early stage, PID can be treated very simply with antibiotics. This will usually include a combination of different antibiotics, and will last for around two weeks. Make sure you take your medicine as directed by your doctor, and finish the whole course of treatment.

Tell your doctor if you’re pregnant before taking antibiotic treatment because certain antibiotics should not be taken during pregnancy.

Avoid having sex while you’re taking the antibiotics to help your infection clear up as easily as possible. You should also tell any recent sexual partners you might have had so that they can get tested and treated. This will stop the infection being spread to anyone else.

Can you cure PID?

PID can be cured and is treated effectively with antibiotics in most cases. However, it’s possible for it to come back, especially if it’s not treated correctly.

The complications of PID sometimes cannot be cured. For example if there’s damage or scarring to the fallopian tubes, this can cause long term fertility issues.

Can you prevent PID?

You can’t prevent PID from happening completely. However, you can protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that could cause PID in the future.

The best way to protect yourself against STIs is by using condoms with any new sexual partners. It’s impossible to tell if someone has an STI just by looking, and lots of people can have an STI without any symptoms.

What are the effects of PID on pregnancy?

Having PID can increase your chances of having what’s known as an ectopic pregnancy. This is when the foetus grows inside your fallopian tubes instead of inside the womb. This is a serious condition and can make some women infertile.

However, this is only the case if your fallopian tubes are affected by PID. In certain cases, PID can cause scarring of your fallopian tubes, and make them narrower. This makes it harder for your eggs to pass through from your ovaries into your womb for a normal pregnancy to occur.

If you are worried about PID and pregnancy, talk to your doctor for more information and reassurance. In the vast majority of cases, women who have been treated for PID are able to get pregnant without any difficulties at all.

How long does it take for PID to affect your fertility?

Only around 1 in 10 women with PID will have problems with fertility as a result. It’s usually only women who’ve had multiple (recurrent) episodes of PID, or who’ve left their symptoms untreated for a long time, that have difficulty getting pregnant after having PID.

The sooner you catch the signs of PID, and the quicker you have treatment, the better your chances for a speedy recovery.

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Medically reviewed by:
Dr Kathryn Basford

Dr Kathryn Basford is an IMC and GMC registered GP who works with our Irish team here at ZAVA. She graduated from the University of Manchester and completed her GP training at Whipps Cross Hospital in London.

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Last reviewed: 10 May 2019

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