Bacterial vaginosis is a common infection in women that is generally caused by an imbalance between the harmful and good bacteria in the vagina. The condition is most common in sexually active women aged 14-49 and is especially prevalent in expectant mothers.
It’s important to treat bacterial vaginosis and take medication for the entire treatment course. Don’t stop even when the symptoms go away. In addition, avoid treating bacterial vaginosis with over-the-counter drugs meant to treat yeast infections.
In most cases, such antifungal medications in the form of ointments, suppositories, and vaginal creams will only give one day of moderate relief but will not treat the underlying condition. This post covers bacterial vaginosis in detail, including the risks of not treating the condition.
What is Bacterial Vaginosis?
BV, short for bacterial vaginosis, is a condition that results from changes in certain amounts of bacteria in your vagina. For example, bacterial vaginosis may develop when the vagina has more harmful bacteria compared to good bacteria.
Risks and complications of untreated BV
Bacterial vaginosis is treatable, provided you follow strict medication faithfully. Don’t be tempted to stop your treatment because you feel better. Instead, stick to the treatment until the end.
If left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can lead to other serious complications. Some of them include:
1. Increased risk of contracting STIs
Bacterial vaginosis increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and herpes simplex via inflammatory mediators, differing levels of mucin-degrading enzymes as well as the alterations in your vaginal pH.
The mucin-degrading enzymes compromise the ability of cervical mucus, which provides a protective barrier, to trap pathogens – leading to vulnerability and unhindered access to target cells.
The risks of contracting STIs increases with the severity of the infection. The more severe the condition, the higher the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.
2. High risk of developing a pelvic inflammatory condition
Pelvic inflammatory disease is the inflammation and infection of the female genital tract, which can result in ectopic pregnancy and serious reproductive morbidity. Bacterial vaginosis, being a complex alteration of the vaginal flora, has been implicated in pelvic inflammatory disease, although further research is required.
Studies have found a link between cervicitis, salpingitis, endometritis, and bacterial vaginosis. However, it seems that some of the BV-associated organisms are also associated with PID, yet others aren’t. More studies are required to determine a causal association between the conditions.
3. Higher likelihood of contracting HIV
Like in STIs, bacterial vaginosis increases the risk of contracting HIV from an infected person.
Research shows that BV leads to changes in the vagina, such as depletion in the type of bacteria which are believed to play an important role in defending your vagina against micro-organisms like HIV. It also leads to higher pH levels which may increase the survival and adherence of the HIV virus.
Furthermore, bacterial vaginosis interferes with mucus which acts as a protective barrier, thus providing unrestricted access to harmful bacteria and viruses like HIV. This means a bacterial vaginosis patient is more likely to contract HIV from an infected person than a BV-free female.
That’s why BV patients should not leave the condition untreated to prevent such serious complications.
4. Pregnancy complications
Expectant mothers suffering from bacterial vaginosis are likely to experience pregnancy complications. Some of these complications include low birth weight or early delivery. Even worse, they may develop other types of infections after delivery.
Unfortunately, pregnant women are more likely to contract bacterial vaginosis due to changes in hormones that occur during pregnancy. The good news is, even while pregnant, the infection is treatable and only leads to serious complications if left untreated.
5. Decrease in fertility
Another risk of untreated bacterial vaginosis is a decrease in fertility. Most infections, including bacterial vaginosis, generally decrease fertility in several ways – by increasing inflammation, creating a toxic environment that does not support reproduction, and interfering with immune system activity.
Again, with all those changes from the infection, the sperm and vaginal cells find it difficult to survive. The changes make it unfavorable for reproduction leading to a decrease in fertility.
6. Infections after surgery
BV patients are at a higher risk of getting infections after surgeries. These infections primarily affect the reproductive system. For example, surgeries like cesarean deliveries, abortions, and hysterectomies may lead to infections in cases of untreated bacterial vaginosis.
Possible BV treatment options
Anyone suffering from this condition should be treated not only to relieve the symptoms but also to avoid complications.
Medication options include:
- Metronidazole taken orally or Metronidazole gel inserted vaginally or Clindamycin cream also inserted vaginally.
- Tinidazole taken orally
- Clindamycin taken orally
- Clindamycin ovules, 100 mg, inserted vaginally
Complementary therapies include:
When taking or immediately after completion of tinidazole or metronidazole, avoid alcohol and refrain from intercourse.
It’s not uncommon for the infection to recur or persist even after treatment. To effectively treat such a condition, the doctor might prescribe an extended course of antibiotics. Check with your doctor before taking any medication, even if it’s a recurring condition.
The benefits of using the above medications to treat bacterial vaginosis include treating the condition fully provided you follow the instructions and avoid complications from the untreated infection.
Besides, pregnant women get to avoid further pregnancy complications, including low birth weight babies and early delivery. Again, you avoid getting infections after surgeries like cesarean delivery and ensure the condition does not interfere with your fertility.
Some of these medications, like the vaginal inserts, are administered at night before going to bed, giving your body enough time for treatment.
The bottom line
Bacterial vaginosis is a common infection affecting women that may lead to serious complications if left untreated. Luckily, with strict adherence to medical instructions, you can treat BV and avoid these complications. The best thing is to seek treatment and avoid taking any unprescribed medication when treating the condition.