What Is It, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More

Author: Jessica Rivas

Editors: Ahaana Singh, Lisa Miklush, PhD, RN, CNS

Illustrator: Jillian Dunbar

Modified: 4 Jan 2024

What is salpingitis?

Salpingitis refers to the inflammation of the fallopian tubes, which stretch from the ovary to the uterus. It is a type of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is an infection of the female reproductive pelvic organs, and is most commonly caused by sexually transmitted bacterial infections, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea

Salpingitis can affect one or both of the fallopian tubes, and if left untreated, can result in long-term complications

What does salpingitis mean?

The word salpingitis originates from the ancient Greek words “salpinx'', meaning trumpet, and “itis”, meaning inflammation. Accordingly, it roughly translates to inflammation of trumpet-like tubes, or more specifically, the inflammation of the Fallopian tubes

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What is acute salpingitis?

Most cases of salpingitis are considered acute, which is characterized by a sudden onset with severe symptoms. Most commonly, individuals with acute salpingitis may have unusual vaginal discharge, which appears yellow in color and has a foul odor. In addition, individuals may experience abdominal pain, pelvic pain, or lower back pain. Oftentimes individuals also feel pain during menstruation, ovulation, or sex. In some cases they also might experience fever, nausea, vomiting, or frequent urination. 

On the other hand, chronic salpingitis is characterized by a lingering, longer-term infection, usually accompanied by mild or no symptoms. In some cases, chronic salpingitis can develop after the onset of acute salpingitis

What causes salpingitis?

Salpingitis most frequently develops from a bacterial infection transmitted through vaginal intercourse. The most common bacteria associated with salpingitis include Chlamydia trachomatis (i.e., chlamydia) and Neisseria gonorrhoeae (i.e., gonorrhea). Other groups of bacteria that can cause salpingitis include Mycoplasma, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus. Increased risk for such infections occur in sexually active individuals who have had a sexuallly transmitted infection (STI), enage in unprotected sex, or have multiple sexual partners. 

In rare instances, salpingitis can result from certain procedures, including intrauterine device (IUD) insertion, childbirth, abortion, or other intrauterine procedures, such as an internal uterine inspection (i.e. hysteroscopy) or the sampling of uterine tissue (i.e. endometrial biopsy). Such procedures, which involve the instrumentation of the cervix or uterus, can potentially carry bacteria that causes the associated infection of the Fallopian tubes

Can salpingitis cause ectopic pregnancy?

Salpingitis can cause an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. Usually, a fertilized egg travels through the fallopian tube in order to properly implant itself in the uterus. However, after infection, the fallopian tube may have scars, adhesions, or blockages, that prevent the complete transport of the fertilized egg. Instead, the embryo may begin its development in the fallopian tube.

An ectopic pregnancy cannot proceed to a full term birth and generally requires immediate treatment. If left untreated, an ectopic pregnancy can result in life-threatening bleeding, as well as potential damage to the reproductive system. 

Tubal scarring, adhesions, and blockages can also potentially lead to infertility

How is salpingitis diagnosed?

To diagnose salpingitis a health care provider will usually begin by assessing an individual’s symptoms and past medical history. This is often followed by a physical examination to look for tenderness and pain of the lower abdomen and pelvic region, as well as the presence of unusual vaginal discharge. Additionally, enlarged lymph nodes may be a sign of infection. 

In addition, blood tests and urine tests may be ordered to determine infection. Similarly, a vaginal or cervical culture may also be required to identify the type of bacteria involved. In some cases, a transvaginal or abdominal ultrasound may be performed to view the pelvic organs. In order to look for any potential blockages in the fallopian tubes, a special type of X-ray, known as a hysterosalpingogram, may also be used. Finally, a diagnostic laparoscopy may be recommended, which is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that allows providers to get a complete look at the Fallopian tubes and other reproductive organs

How do you treat salpingitis?

Treatment for salpingitis generally depends on the severity of the infection. In mild cases, oral antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat the infection. For more severe cases, intravenous antibiotics may be required. It is also important that the individual’s sexual partner is treated with antibiotics in the case of STI-related salpingitis.

If the infection has resulted in the development of a collection of pus or fluid (i.e. an abscess) on the fallopian tube, surgical drainage may be required. Similarly, if the infection has caused scars or adhesions of the fallopian tube, surgical repair may be necessary in order to avoid infertility

What are the most important facts to know about salpingitis?

Salpingitis is an infection and inflammation of the fallopian tubes. It is considered to be a type of pelvic inflammatory disease and is most often caused by sexually transmitted bacterial infections. In some cases, however, salpingitis may result from intrauterine procedures. Common symptoms include fever, unusual vaginal discharge, frequent urination, nausea, vomiting, lower back pain, pelvic pain, as well as pain during menstruation and sexual intercourse. In order to diagnose salpingitis, one will usually undergo clinical and physical examination. In some cases, additional testing, such as blood work, urine tests, vaginal or cervical swabs, abdominal or transvaginal ultrasounds, or laparoscopic diagnosis may also be helpful. Treatment usually consists of oral or intravenous antibiotics, but surgical intervention might also be required. If not treated appropriately, complications can include infertility or an ectopic pregnancy, both of which can result from damage to the Fallopian tubes.

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Related links

Pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): Nursing
Sexually transmitted infections: Clinical practice

Resources for research and reference

Brown-Harrison, M. C., Christenson, J. C., Harrison, A. M., & Matlak, M. E. (1995). Group A Streptococcal Salpingitis in a Prepubertal Girl. Clinical Pediatrics, 34(10). DOI: 10.1177/000992289503401009 

Stanton, S. L. (1987). Acute salpingitis. British Medical Journal, 295: 621. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.295.6599.621-a

van der Putten, M. E., Engel, M., van Well, G. T. (2008). Salpingitis. A rare cause of acute abdomen in a sexually inactive girl: a case report. Cases Journal, 2008(1): 326. DOI: 10.1186/1757-1626-1-326

Weström, L. & Mårdh, P. A. (1983). Chlamydial salpingitis. British Medical Bulletin, 39(2): 145-50. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.bmb.a071806