Understanding Women’s Experiences with Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common gynecologic infection, affecting nearly 29 percent of women in the U.S. While not all women with BV have symptoms, those that do may experience an abnormal vaginal discharge that may be white or gray, watery, and may also have a strong fish-like odor, or vaginal itching and irritation.

Left undiagnosed and untreated, BV can increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. BV also increases the risk of pre-term birth and low birth weight, which can negatively impact the overall health of the baby; and pelvic inflammatory disease. BV can impact women’s emotional health as well, causing feelings of anxiety and embarrassment that can interfere with intimate relationships.

To get a better understanding of women’s experiences with BV, ASHA, in conjunction with Harris Poll, conducted a national survey of 304 women ages 18 to 49 who have had BV. Key findings from the survey include:

  • 76 percent of women with BV stated they would have gone to see a healthcare professional sooner if they were aware of the risks associated with BV if left untreated.
  • Only 43 percent of women with BV are aware that if left untreated, BV can cause an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Not only did 62 percent of women mistake BV for a yeast infection prior to diagnosis, but 20 percent still believe that BV is a yeast infection
  • Most women with BV feel self-conscious (68 percent) and/or embarrassed (66 percent) due to their condition
  • Women with BV admit that they have avoided certain everyday activities that may often be taken for granted, including being intimate with their spouse/partner (79 percent), working out (27 percent), or going on a first date (17 percent)

These survey results reaffirm the common misperceptions about BV and impact the condition can have on women’s health. A new online resource, KeepHerAwesome.com, features more results from the survey and provides women and healthcare professionals with information on BV including a BV fact sheet, discussion guides on how to talk with your partner and healthcare provider about BV, and “Dos and Don’ts” for providers to share with their patients.

The survey was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Symbiomix Therapeutics, LLC, a Lupin Company, and the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) within the United States between September 14 and 29, 2017 among 304 US women aged 18-49 who have been diagnosed by a healthcare professional with bacterial vaginosis (BV) within the past 2 years (“women with bacterial vaginosis”). Figures for age, income, race/ethnicity, region, education, and size of household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

ASHA Podcast: BV

Untreated BV can cause health issues so a proper diagnosis and prescribed treatment are both important. In this episode, Jenelle Marie Pierce, health educator and executive director of the TheSTIProject.com, shares her experiences in coping with BV and offers tips on talking with healthcare providers. Listen below: