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Contraceptives may ward off vaginal infection

Women who are prone to the common vaginal infection, bacterial vaginosis, are less likely to have a recurrence if they take hormonal contraception.

Contraceptives may ward off vaginal infection

Women who are prone to the common vaginal infection, bacterial vaginosis, are less likely to have a recurrence if they take hormonal contraception, whether it be birth control pills or Depo-Provera injections.

Bacterial vaginosis occurs when the normal bacterial flora of the vagina is disrupted and replaced by an overproduction of other types of bacteria. Symptoms include a fishy odor and discharge, as well as itching, burning or pain. Women can also have bacterial vaginosis without symptoms. It's the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age and is associated with preterm delivery and low birth weight babies. Though treatable by antibiotics, it tends to recur. The condition is also associated with sexual activity, douching and sexually transmitted diseases, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes simplex virus and HIV.

Previous research has shown that 15 percent to 30 percent of women have symptomatic bacterial vaginosis within three months after taking antibiotics, and 70 percent have a recurrence within nine months. To find out the protective effect of hormonal contraction against bacterial vaginosis, researchers examined medical records of 330 reproductive-age women who were treated for sexually transmitted disease with hormonal contraceptives. About 133, or 40 percent, were diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis and were prescribed a contraceptive, either progestin only (such as Depo-Provera) or estrogen-progestin combination (a birth control pill).

It was found that the women who were taking an oral contraceptive that included estrogen and progestin were 34 percent less likely to have a recurrence of bacterial vaginosis than women not taking a contraceptive. The women who were on a progestin-only contraceptive were 58 percent less likely to have a recurrence. Though the reduction attributed to the combined pill was not statistically significant.

The researchers concluded that hormonal contraceptives might help ward off a recurrence by altering the vaginal ecology or by reducing menstruation, which is also associated with changes to vaginal bacteria levels. The findings support that birth control pills possibly have additional advantages that can be used for treating bacterial vaginosis.
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