We explore the complex link between bacterial vaginosis and physiological stress.
Stress isn't all in your head. Psychological stress impacts your whole body — and that includes your vagina.
Anxiety can contribute to a slew of vaginal health concerns, including dryness, pelvic floor tension and irregular or missed periods. In addition, chronic stress can upset the vagina's delicate ecosystem, weakening the protective bacteria and making you vulnerable to infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV).
So, is BV caused by stress? The answer to this question isn't a simple "yes" or "no". Stress does not cause BV, but it can increase your risk of getting it. In this article, we'll explore the link between BV and stress, and explain how anxiety might be affecting your sexual health.
What is bacterial vaginosis (BV)?
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common vaginal infection that occurs when the normal bacterial content of the vagina is disrupted. When something upsets the vaginal flora, it can fuel an overgrowth of the "bad" bacteria that contribute to BV.
Symptoms of BV vary from person to person, but common signs include grey-white discharge, a fishy smell and itchiness. Most people with BV experience no symptoms at all.
Does stress cause BV?
While the exact cause of BV is unknown, we know that certain things increase your risk of developing the infection. Stress is one of them.
Research has found that women who are stressed experience higher rates of BV. The exact relationship between stress and BV is not understood, but scientists believe anxiousness weakens the immune system, making you vulnerable to infection.
Other studies have shown that stress affects the vaginal microbiome. One animal study revealed that stress may impact vaginal tissues, making you more likely to contract a vaginal infection.
Feeling overwhelmed or worried isn't the only potential risk factor for BV. Activities like having unprotected sex and douching also increase your chances of developing BV.
How stress impacts vaginal health
In addition to increasing your risk of BV, there are other ways stress can harm your vagina. Here are some of the ways chronic worrying might be affecting yours:
Vaginal Dryness: Stress can trigger the production of cortisol, a "fight or flight" hormone that gets the body fired up on high alert. High levels of cortisol can reduce blood flow and cause a decrease in your vagina's natural lubrication.
Missed or irregular periods: The excessive cortisol levels generated as your body's response to stress can disrupt estrogen and progesterone production, leading to irregular or missed periods.
Pelvic floor problems: Stress can cause your pelvic floor muscles to clench, causing painful sex, cramps and constipation.
Low libido: When you're stressed, your testosterone levels fall as stress-related hormone levels soar, causing your sex drive to take a dive.
The bottom line
Ultimately, more research is needed to understand the link between BV and stress — but we do know stress can make you more susceptible to getting it. Finding ways to destress, in addition to seeking physician-approved treatment for your BV, may help prevent future infections.