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Popular Vaginal Treatments Linked to Increased Risk for Infections

Update Date: Mar 22, 2013 01:49 PM EDT
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The use of vaginal treatments that require using cleansers, lubricants or petroleum jelly intravaginally have been recently linked to increasing the risk for vaginal infections, a finding that contradicts the purpose of these forms of treatments. According to a new research study, treatment options that come in the form of inserted products can actually damage vaginal tissues, which can increase the chances of getting sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and herpes. Now, women who suffer from yeast or bacterial infections must decide whether or not the benefits from these treatment options outweigh the cons.

The research study enrolled 141 women residing in Los Angeles, CA into a questionnaire regarding their use of vaginal products, and then did follow up lab tests for vaginal infections. The researchers discovered that roughly 66 percent of the women stated that they used vaginal products that required insertion. Of this 66 percent, 45 percent of them reported to have used commercial versions of washers meant to clean the vaginal area. The study also reported that 70 percent of the women who used vaginal products also used commercial lubricants. 17 percent used petroleum jelly and 13 percent used oils as lubricants.

The researchers found that women who used petroleum jelly and oils had a higher chance of developing infections. In fact, 40 percent of the sample group that used petroleum jelly had bacterial vaginosis and 44 percent of the group that used oils had Candida, which is a fungus that causes yeast infections. However, the researchers could not determine if it were the products alone that increased the risk for infections or the combination of the products with other vaginal products that require insertion that led to more infections in this group. The group that did not use either lubricant had a 5 percent infection rate.

"Women should be aware that there is mounting evidence that some products that are inserted vaginally can cause damage to vaginal tissues, and can increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis and sexually transmitted infections," Joelle Brown, lead author from the University of California Los Angeles stated.

Doctors do not recommend the frequent use of vaginal douches and washers because they can disrupt the levels of bacteria that are already present in the vagina. This can lead to several complications like infections and unwanted itchiness. Although there are no clear alternatives for women, the study reminds women to be more selective in terms of when they actually need treatment and what kinds of treatment and lubricants they should use. 

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