Untreated vaginal infection can have serious consequences
Kate Johnson | Jun 25, 2003
Dr. Frank Biro, professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati, says up to 20 per cent of women who buy over-the-counter treatments for yeast infections have never actually had a diagnosis of yeast, and could easily have bacterial vaginosis(BV).
"If they do actually have BV and they're treating themselves for yeast, they're not only exposing themselves needlessly to an inappropriate antibiotic, but they're also not treating their BV and that has more serious consequences than we used to think."
In fact, studies suggest untreated BV can make a woman more susceptible to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. And women who have gynecologic surgery or surgical abortion while infected with BV have a much higher risk of developing post-surgical infections and pelvic inflammatory disease.
The confusion between BV and yeast infections stems from the fact the symptoms can overlap, says Biro. Both conditions produce vaginal discharge. While yeast infections tend to include itchiness or pain, women with BV more often complain that their discharge smells bad.
It's not only patients who blur the distinction between BV and yeast infections. "A lot of physicians under-utilize the tests for making a correct diagnosis," Biro says. "If a patient comes in complaining of vaginal discharge, some physicians might just take a look and treat her for yeast."
Dr. David Soper, a recognized expert in vaginal infections, says many doctors don't perform simple tests that can distinguish between BV and a yeast infection. These involve measuring the acidity of the vagina and examining a sample of discharge under a microscope.
Soper says women treated for BV when they actually have a yeast infection can also run into problems. The treatment will make them worse because it kills friendly bacteria that are fighting the yeast.
Women can also have symptoms but no detectable infection, in which case they don't need treatment and should wait to see if the symptoms go away on their own, Soper advises. They may have allergies or sensitivities to feminine hygiene products, douches or vaginal deodorants.