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Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

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Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

What is pelvic inflammatory disease?

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a serious infection that affects a woman's uterus (womb), fallopian tubes, ovaries, and/or surrounding tissues. It is usually caused by untreated sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but it can also follow a miscarriage, abortion, or childbirth.

What are the symptoms of PID?

PID can be acute (a disease of rapid onset usually with severe symptoms), or chronic (a disease of long duration). Acute PID can be extremely painful, while chronic PID may cause only recurrent mild pain.

Symptoms can include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the lower abdomen
  • Heavy vaginal discharge with a strong unpleasant odour
  • Irregular or heavy menstrual periods
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Low back pain
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, nausea and vomiting, general discomfort or fatigue

If you notice any of these symptoms, in either you or your female partner, seek medical advice.

How is PID diagnosed?

PID is diagnosed following a pelvic examination by your doctor. A sample of vaginal discharge may also be taken for analysis and in some cases, a laparoscopy may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis — a laparoscopy is a minor surgical procedure carried out under anaesthesia during which a small incision is made in the abdomen to enable your doctor to view the internal pelvic structures. PID can be treated with antibiotics, although there is still a risk that there has been permanent damage to the reproductive organs making pregnancy difficult.

Who is most at risk of contracting PID?

In theory, any woman can get PID. However the chances of you contracting it increase if:

  • You have had multiple sexual partners.
  • You have had a sexual partner who had either gonorrhoea or chlamydia.
  • You yourself have ever had gonorrhoea or chlamydia.
  • You have used or still use an IUD for contraception.
  • You have had PID before.
  • You are under 35 years of age.

I have heard that PID can cause infertility. Is this true?

Unfortunately it is a possibility. PID can result in an abscess in the fallopian tubes, which can cause scarring or blockage in the fallopian tubes. This can make it more difficult for the eggs and sperm to pass through the tubes, increasing the risk of infertility or an ectopic pregnancy (where the foetus develops outside the uterus (womb), such as in one of the fallopian tubes).

How can I reduce my chances of contracting PID?

The best way to decrease the risk of developing PID is to prevent STDs, so have just one sexual partner who has sex only with you.

There are a number of additional measures that can reduce your chances of getting PID:

  • If you are not in a monogamous relationship where you know the sexual history of your partner, always practise safe sex. Use a condom or a diaphragm.
  • Do not use an IUD for contraception.
  • If you have just given birth, do not put anything into your vagina for six weeks, including tampons. (This means no sexual intercourse either.) If you have had a miscarriage or an abortion, do not put anything into your vagina for at least three weeks.

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