Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is a broad term for infection of one or more of the female reproductive organs – the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It is relatively common, according to NHS Direct, affecting one in 50 women. It is caused by an excessive growth of bacterium in the vagina, and is sexually transmitted in most cases. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are common culprits*.
In some cases, bacterial infection is introduced to the vagina during medical procedures such as abortion, gynaecological examinations, fitting a coil, or as a result of miscarriage or childbirth. The bacterium live in the vagina and slowly travel upwards to infect the reproductive organs. This can lead to the development of cysts, which will need to be removed. The movement of bacterium can take a while, which is why a woman may have no symptoms for a while after being infected.
Symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Part of the problem with PID is that symptoms can be mild, and a woman may not realise she has it until it is picked up during routine testing. Ask your doctor to check things out if you have recurrent stomach, pelvic or lower back pain, or vaginal discharge of any kind. An bacterial infection can spread quickly and make you feel quite ill so seek medical help if you have any of the following common symptoms: –
- Recurrent pelvic, stomach, rectal or lower back pain.
- Feeling sick.
- Developing a fever.
- Heavy periods and spotting blood between periods.
- Constant tiredness.
- Vaginal discharge.
Diagnosing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Your doctor will do several tests to determine what the infection is. These include swab testing, which involves taking a sample of any discharge for lab analysis. Blood and urine tests may also required. If the infection cannot be identified, a laparoscopy may be required to examine the internal reproductive organs.
Treating Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
If left untreated PID can damage the fallopian tubes and affect fertility so treatment needs to be prompt. The NHS explains that even a few days can make a difference in terms of the amount of scarring to the fallopian tubes. If your symptoms are mild or come and go, have a check-up to make sure everything is okay. If PID is diagnosed, antibiotics (Ofloxacin, Metronidazole, or Doxycycline) are usually prescribed, which should clear up the infection and inflammation within 1-2 weeks. Even if you feel better after a few days, you need to finish the course of antibiotics to avoid recurrent infection. Painkillers will help ease any chronic pelvic pain, if required.
During treatment, you need to rest and look after yourself. Eat a balanced diet and abstain from sex until the infection has cleared up.
In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove abscesses and/or the fallopian tube(s), if the damage cannot be reversed. This is a process called Salpingectomy.
As Pelvic Inflammatory Disease is usually sexually transmitted, you will need to inform any recent sexual partners so they can be tested and treated, if necessary.
Preventing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
To help prevent vaginal infections and PID it is important to have regular sexual health checks to identify any problems early on. Practise safe sex and use condoms with new sexual partners. If you are using the coil as a contraceptive method, your doctor may advise that you review this, as the coil can be an irritant and cause of PID.
PID is a serious health issue that requires prompt treatment. In most cases, antibiotics will clear up any infection and inflammation within two weeks’. Even if your symptoms are mild, always seek medical advice from your doctor or local sexual health clinic.
Sexual Health Resources
*Chlamydia is responsible for 75% of cases of PID, followed by Gonorrhoea (14% of cases) NHS Direct, accessed 30th August.
Women’s Health Handbook, by Dr Miriam Stoppard, Dorling Kindersley, ISBN 07513 1434 X.