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Vaginal infections often misdiagnosed, say gynecologists.

Dr. Richard Sweet, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Pittsburgh, says that a little-known vaginal problem, bacterial vaginosis (BV), is more common than yeast infection, for which it is often mistaken. "Vaginal problems are the most common reason a woman will visit her physician," he says. "Unfortunately, BV is so frequently misdiagnosed that thousands of health care dollars are being wasted on repeat office visits and ineffective medications."

An estimated 25 percent of American women may have BV, which puts them at increased risk of more serious gynecological problems, including inflammation of the fallopian tubes and other pelvic inflammatory disease. "Medical care providers need to do a better job of pinpointing the exact form of vaginitis in order to treat it specifically," says Dr. James McGregor, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "If BV is misdiagnosed as a yeast infection and not treated properly, it can lead to serious complications."

Only in the past decade has BV been identified and defined as a single medical condition. An over-growth of bacteria in the vagina causes the condition, which produces a foul or "fishy" odor and milklike discharge. Although any woman can contract BV, sexually active women are more prone to it.

"Many women believe that vaginal odor is normal, when in fact it is a signal that something is wrong," says Dr. Sweet. "If a woman suspects she has BV or is experiencing vaginal odor, she should see her physician for a definitive diagnosis and treatment."

Fortunately, correct treatment is usually fast and effective. The drug metronidazole (Flagyl) is specific for BV but has been available only in tablet form. However, the FDA has recently approved the drug in the form of a vaginal gel, MetroGelVaginal (Curatek Pharmaceuticals), which virtually eliminates the undesirable side effects of oral therapy, such as vomiting, nausea, upset stomach, and the drug's metallic taste. It also minimizes the yeast overgrowth often associated with the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics.
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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