Increases in psychosocial stress seem to increase a woman’s odd of having, or developing, a vaginal infection termed bacterial vaginosis (BV), researchers report.
“Bacterial vaginosis is a common condition that is not well understood in terms of how women get it and what degree of harm it causes, or even how you can prevent whatever harm it may be causing,” Dr. Mark A. Klebanoff told Reuters Health.
There is evidence, added the researcher from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland, that BV increases the risks of HIV infection, post-operative infection, and premature delivery among women who are pregnant.
However, it is hard to eradicate and often recurs.
To gain a better understanding of the disease, Klebanoff and his associates recruited 3614 women, between the ages of 15 to 44, who were not pregnant or on long-term antibiotic therapy and had a normal immune system.
According to the team’s report in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the subjects underwent pelvic examinations quarterly for 1 year. The investigators found that the likelihood of having BV was associated with age, race, income, frequency of douching, frequency of vaginal intercourse, number of recent sex partners, and the use of hormonal contraceptives.
The investigators evaluated the subjects’ psychosocial stress over the preceding 30 days at each examination using.
They also found that stress was linked to BV, with each 1-point increase on the Perceived Stress Scale (range 1.00 to 5.00) associated with a 1.15-fold greater risk of being positive for BV.
“The magnitude of the effect is relatively small, but one that is large enough to be meaningful,” co-researcher Dr. Tonja R. Nansel, also with the NICHHD, told Reuters Health.
Stress may have immune-altering effects that affect the risk of vaginosis, Klebanoff said, adding that “there is plausible speculation that chronic stress is associated with some local immune defects,” but further documentation will be required.
He noted that the study is ongoing and the researchers are still collecting a wide range of data, including hygiene habits, sex behaviors, as well smoking, alcohol and drug use, “to get a better handle on what factors are associated with BV, and to see which ones might be amenable to treatment.”
SOURCE: American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, February 2006.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD