Fast facts

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is the result of an infection of a woman's reproductive organs.
  • PID occurs most commonly when bacteria from a sexually-transmitted infection (STI) spread from the cervix to the uterus, fallopian tubes and possibly the ovaries and surrounding pelvis tissue. It can also occur after childbirth, miscarriage, an abortion or insertion of an intrauterine device (IUD).
  • Symptoms can appear suddenly and be severe (acute), or appear gradually and be milder (chronic).
  • If left untreated, this condition can lead to permanent damage to a woman's reproductive system.

Abortion

The termination of a pregnancy.

Cervix

The lower part of the uterus, leading out into the vagina.

Fallopian tubes

The tube-like structures connecting a woman's uterus to her ovaries. Eggs released by the ovaries travel to the uterus via the fallopian tubes.

Ovaries

Female organs located on either side of the uterus. Each ovary produces eggs that travel along the fallopian tubes to the uterus.

Uterus

The hollow organ of the female reproductive system that is responsible for the development of the embryo and fetus during pregnancy. Also known as the womb.

Sexually-transmitted infection

A viral or bacterial infection contracted through sexual intercourse or genital contact. Such an infection can lead to development of diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes and AIDS.

Intrauterine device

A small, hormone-containing device that is inserted into the uterus for long-term contraception.

What is pelvic inflammatory disease?

Pelvic inflammatory disease is the result of an infection of a woman's reproductive organs.

Signs and symptoms

Some women with PID may not experience any signs or symptoms, while others can experience mild or severe symptoms. These symptoms commonly include:

  • Pain during sexual intercourse;
  • Smelly discharge from the vagina;
  • Pain or a burning sensation while urinating, and;
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding occurring between periods, or after sexual intercourse.

If the infection spreads quickly, you are more likely to experience:

  • Chills, fever, nausea or vomiting, and;
  • Severe abdominal pain.

A slowly-progressing infection is more likely to cause:

Inflammation of the uterus and ovary as a result of the pelvic inflammatory disease.Inflammation of the uterus and ovary as a result of pelvic inflammatory disease. 

Ovary

Female organs located on either side of the uterus. Each ovary produces eggs that travel along the fallopian tubes to the uterus.

Uterus

The hollow organ of the female reproductive system that is responsible for the development of the embryo and fetus during pregnancy. Also known as the womb.

Abdominal

Relating to the abdomen, the middle portion of the trunk which contains organs such as the intestines, stomach and liver.

Causes

PID most commonly occurs from a sexually-transmitted infection that has spread from the cervix to infect the remainder of the uterus, the fallopian tubes and ovaries.

Other circumstance in which an infection can spread to these organs can include:

Abortion

The termination of a pregnancy.

Cervix

The lower part of the uterus, leading out into the vagina.

Fallopian tubes

The tube-like structures connecting a woman's uterus to her ovaries. Eggs released by the ovaries travel to the uterus via the fallopian tubes.

Ovaries

Female organs located on either side of the uterus. Each ovary produces eggs that travel along the fallopian tubes to the uterus.

Uterus

The hollow organ of the female reproductive system that is responsible for the development of the embryo and fetus during pregnancy. Also known as the womb.

Sexually-transmitted infection

A viral or bacterial infection contracted through sexual intercourse or genital contact. Such an infection can lead to development of diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes and AIDS.

Risk factors

Risk factors associated with PID include:

  • Being sexually active and under 25 years old;
  • Having an untreated STI;
  • A previous STI;
  • Having unprotected sex;
  • Having multiple sexual partners, and;
  • Having operations involving the cervix (such as the insertion of an IUD, or a dilatation and curettage surgical procedure).

Cervix

The lower part of the uterus, leading out into the vagina.

Dilatation and curettage

A surgical procedure in which the cervix is opened up by instruments called dilators to allow access to the uterus. The uppermost layer of the lining of the uterus is gently scraped off.

STI

A viral or bacterial infection contracted through sexual intercourse or genital contact. Such an infection can lead to development of diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes and AIDS.

Types

PID can appear in two forms - acute or chronic. In the acute form, symptoms can appear suddenly and be severe; in the chronic form, symptoms can appear more gradually and be milder.

Methods for diagnosis

To diagnose PID, your doctor may ask you about your symptoms and conduct a pelvic examination. This examination may involve taking swab samples from your vagina and cervix to identify any infection. A urine test is also commonly used to identify the presence of STIs such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

Your doctor may also use a pelvic ultrasound scan help to identify how far an infection has spread.

If there is still doubt, or you are not responding to treatment. a procedure known as laparoscopy can be used to diagnose PID. A surgeon will view the reproductive organs by inserting a small camera through a small incision in your abdomen.

Cervix

The lower part of the uterus, leading out into the vagina.

Pelvic examination

An examination performed by your doctor or nurse that involves a speculum examination with a duck-bill instrument and an internal examination in which they may put two gloved fingers inside your vagina to check for lumps or tender regions.

Pelvic ultrasound

A scan that uses a device that emits high-frequency soundwaves to produce images of the internal structures of your pelvis. It may be performed over your abdomen or through your vagina.

STIs

A viral or bacterial infection contracted through sexual intercourse or genital contact. Such an infection can lead to development of diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes and AIDS.

Types of treatment

It is important to begin treatment for PID as soon as possible to reduce the risk of organ scarring, which can lead to chronic PID and serious complications.

Treatment is usually straightforward: you will receive a course of oral antibiotics targeted against the specific organism that has caused the infection. In cases of severe infection, you may be admitted to hospital and given antibiotics intravenously.

It is also important for your sexual partner to be tested and treated if required. It is important not to have sex with your partner until you are both free of infection, as you may become reinfected.

Antibiotics

Chemical substances that kill or suppress the growth of bacteria.

Intravenously

Within a vein.

Organism

A form of life. It includes single-cell forms such as bacteria and more complex forms such as fungi, plants and animals.

Potential complications

Complications associated with pelvic inflammatory disease can occur if the condition is unnoticed or not treated. The risk of complications also increases if you have more than one episode of PID.

Complications include:

Abscesses

A swollen area of tissue containing a build-up of pus.

Embryo

An organism in the early stages of development. An unborn human between the time of fertilisation and the eighth week of pregnancy.

Fallopian tubes

The tube-like structures connecting a woman's uterus to her ovaries. Eggs released by the ovaries travel to the uterus via the fallopian tubes.

Infertility

Inability to produce offspring.

Uterus

The hollow organ of the female reproductive system that is responsible for the development of the embryo and fetus during pregnancy. Also known as the womb.

Prognosis

Acute PID is generally a temporary and treatable condition.

Prevention

PID most commonly occurs due to an STI spreading to the reproductive organs. It is important to recognise the symptoms of an STI, be tested and begin treatment as soon as possible to reduce the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease.

If you have had an STI, it is best for your sexual partner(s) to also be tested and treated. To help prevent STIs and pelvic inflammatory disease, it is important to have protected sex by using a condom.

STI

A viral or bacterial infection contracted through sexual intercourse or genital contact. Such an infection can lead to development of diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes and AIDS.