Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on September 27, 2011

Can bacterial vaginosis cause infertility?

I was just diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis and I’m wondering if it can cause infertility...especially if you have it for a long time and don’t get it treated. I had discomfort for almost a year before my doctor identified it. Right now I’m 21 and not ready for kids, but I’d like to have them sometime in the future.

answered by
Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on September 27, 2011

Thanks for sharing your question with us. The good news is that bacterial vaginosis is not a cause of infertility...but you’re right to ask this question. There are some STDs that can lead to infertility if they aren’t diagnosed and treated early.

Let’s start with a little more information about BV...

First, BV is not an STD…it’s an overgrowth of bacteria that normally live without any problems in the vagina. However, when these “bad” bacteria (anerobes) outgrow other “good” bacteria (lactobacili), the result is BV. Even though BV isn’t technically an STD, women are more likely to get BV if they’ve had sex...and particularly if they’ve had multiple sex partners.

While BV doesn’t cause infertility in and of itself, it can make women more vulnerable to catching other STDs. Women who have BV are more likely to catch chlamydia and gonorrhea, herpes and HIV if exposed to these STDs. Pregnant women with BV also run the risk of giving birth early...but treatment during pregnancy can help minimize complications.

So, even though BV doesn’t cause infertility, it’s still a good idea to get get treated for the infection...and tested for other STDs. Why? Some other STDs can cause infertility.

Specifically, chlamydia and gonorrhea are the two main causes of a condition called pelvic inflammatory disorder (PID). Untreated PID can damage a woman’s reproductive organs and scar the fallopian tubes...resulting in infertility in about 10-15% of cases. However researchers from the University of Pittsburgh ⎼ who conducted the largest study on the relationship between BV and PID to date ⎼ found that women with BV weren’t more likely to develop PID.

Because you’ve had BV and you’re concerned about your future fertility, talk to your doctor about your STD risk factors and testing for STDs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend yearly testing for chlamydia in women 25-years-old and younger to avoid the possibility of undiagnosed PID. (Remember, chlamydia and gonorrhea infections don’t always show obvious symptoms...and PID might not, either.)

For more information about the STDs I mentioned, as well as STD risks, prevention and testing, see our Expert Guides.

If you’re sexually active, regular testing and monitoring changes in your body can help keep you healthy. Thanks again for writing, and I wish you the best of health.  

Related info:

Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD

Dr. Cunningham is a member of the Analyte Physicans Group. She's also a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, practicing at both Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois and at Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Medical Center in Wisconsin. An ER physician since 2000, she regularly treats patients with STDs. Dr. Cunningham was educated at Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her Emergency Medicine residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL.

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