Stress may raise women’s BV risk

By Karla Gale

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – 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

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.

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