OBJECTIVES: Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are an important cause of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) but have often not been detected in microbiological studies of Indian women admitted to hospital gynaecology wards or private clinics. In this cross sectional study, women living in the inner city of Mumbai (Bombay) were investigated for socioeconomic, clinical, and microbiological risk factors for PID. METHODS: Microbiological tests and laparoscopic examination were carried out on 2736 women aged < or = 35 years who came to a health facility with suspected acute salpingitis or infertility or for laparoscopic sterilisation. 86 women with a clinical diagnosis of PID were not referred for laparoscopy although their characteristics are described. Associations between various risk factors and PID status were investigated and logistic regression performed on all factors that remained significant. RESULTS: Of women with a laparoscopically confirmed evaluation, 26 women had acute and 48 chronic pelvic infection. Independent risk factors for PID were later age at menarche (> or = 14 years), a history of stillbirth and no previous pregnancy, history of tuberculosis, STD, dilatation and curettage or previous laparoscopy, and presence of Gardnerella vaginalis. CONCLUSIONS: It is concluded that STD related risk factors applied to only a small proportion of PID cases and that other determinants of PID are important, including obstetric complications, invasive surgical procedures such as laparoscopy, and tuberculosis.