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Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

Pelvic inflammatory disease, commonly called PID, is an infection of the female reproductive organs. PID is one of the most serious complications of a sexually transmitted infection in women. PID can cause irreversible damage to the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, or other parts of the female reproductive system, and is the primary preventable cause of infertility in women.

How common is pelvic inflammatory disease?

About one in 50 women develops PID every year. It most commonly develops in sexually active women who are between 15 and 24 years of age. However, this figure may be an underestimate because many women with PID experience few or no symptoms.

What causes pelvic inflammatory disease?

Normally, the cervix prevents bacteria that enter the vagina from spreading to the internal reproductive organs. If the cervix is exposed to a sexually transmitted infection - such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia - the cervix itself becomes infected and less able to prevent the spread of organisms to the internal organs. PID occurs when the disease-causing organisms travel from the cervix to the upper genital tract. Untreated gonorrhoea and chlamydia cause about 90% of all cases of PID. Other causes include abortion, childbirth, and pelvic procedures.

What are the symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease?

The symptoms of PID can vary, but may include the following:

  • Dull pain or tenderness in the stomach or lower abdominal area, or pain in the right upper abdomen.
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge that is yellow or green in colour or has an unusual odour.
  • Irregular or painful periods.
  • Painful urination.
  • Spotting or cramping throughout the month.
  • Chills or high temperature.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Pain during sex.

What puts a woman at risk of pelvic inflammatory disease?

There are several things which put a woman at risk of PID, including:

  • Women with sexually transmitted infection - especially gonorrhoea and chlamydia - are at greater risk of developing PID.
  • Women who have had a prior episode of PID are at higher risk of another episode.
  • Sexually active teenagers are more likely to develop PID than are older women.
  • Women with many sexual partners are at greater risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and PID.

Some studies suggest that douching may contribute to PID. Douching may push bacteria into the upper genital tract and may mask the discharge that could alert a woman to seek medical attention.

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