Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a common but serious disease that affects around 220,000 women in the UK each year. The disease is most likely to occur in sexually active women between the ages of 15 and 24, and is caused by bacterial infection in the reproductive tract. If left untreated, pelvic inflammatory disease can lead to long-term health complications, and in some cases can be life-threatening.

What is pelvic inflammatory disease?

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection that occurs in a woman’s pelvic area; it can affect the uterus, the ovaries and the fallopian tubes.

It usually exists as a complication from a pre-existing sexually transmitted disease such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea, where the infection has spread from the vagina and cervix up to the upper genital tract. In some cases, PID develops from bacteria that has traveled through the vagina and the cervix by way of an intrauterine device (IUD).

What are the risk factors for pelvic inflammation disease?

Although pelvic inflammatory disease can affect any woman, certain factors may increase the risk that you will develop it, including:

  • If you are sexually active.
  • If you are under 25, because your cervix is not fully mature.
  • Being fitted with an intrauterine device.
  • Having many sexual partners.
  • Having unprotected sex.
  • Douching, which can result in bacteria moving up the uterus.

What causes pelvic inflammatory disease?

Besides being contracted as a result of having a sexually transmitted disease, pelvic inflammatory disease can be contracted after invasive surgical procedures such as an abortion, miscarriage, or a biopsy to remove tissue from inside the womb.

In other cases, the condition can result from an infection in other parts of the abdomen, such as appendicitis. In very rare cases, the cause of pelvic inflammatory disease is unknown and can be the result of bacteria that are normally found in the vagina and that are usually harmless travelling beyond the cervix into the upper genital tract.

What are the symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease?

The symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease tend not to be very specific, which can make diagnosis of the condition difficult. Nevertheless, common symptoms associated with the disease include:

  • Pain in the abdominal or pelvic area
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Bleeding between periods and after sex
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Fever and/or vomiting
  • Burning or pain during urination
  • Rectal pain

These symptoms are also associated with other diseases too, so you should see your doctor if you experience any of them. In some cases, there are no symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease at all, or they may be so mild that you may not think anything is wrong.