Bacterial Vaginosis in Postmenopausal Women

Academic Article


  • Purpose of Review: Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal infection worldwide, but most research has been conducted in premenopausal women. After menopause, endogenous estrogen production decreases, often leading to the genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), characterized by vulvovaginal dryness and irritation. The estrogen-deficient postmenopausal state results in an elevated vaginal pH and depletion of vaginal lactobacilli. Use of traditional BV diagnostics (Amsel criteria, Nugent score) is difficult in post-menopausal women, especially those not on estrogen replacement therapy, as these methods were originally developed in premenopausal women. In this review, we discuss recent clinical data on BV in postmenopausal women, difficulties in diagnosis using traditional methods, the role of BV molecular diagnostics, and our current expert opinion for managing BV in this population. Recent Findings: BV prevalence has been found to range between 2 and 57% among postmenopausal women per Amsel and Nugent criteria. This is likely an over-estimate of the true prevalence due to limitations in these criteria, which were only validated in premenopausal women. Despite increasing diagnostic options for BV in recent years, including highly sensitive and specific BV nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs), the physiologic changes of menopause and limited inclusion of postmenopausal women in clinical studies, diagnosis is difficult in this population. Recent studies utilizing 16 s rRNA gene sequencing have suggested that the vaginal microbiota of premenopausal and postmenopausal women is quite different, even if BV is not present. Data also suggest that obese postmenopausal women have significantly lower rates of BV compared to non-obese postmenopausal women, although further research is needed in this area. Multiple treatment options exist for vaginal atrophy and BV in this population. Summary: Data are limited regarding optimal diagnostic approaches for BV in postmenopausal women; BV NAATs and 16 s rRNA gene sequencing may have a role in diagnosing BV in symptomatic women, although further studies are needed. Menopausal women with characteristic vaginal symptoms and an elevated vaginal pH should be initially treated for estrogen deficiency prior to considering a diagnosis of BV; subsequent treatment for BV should be driven by symptoms.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Van Gerwen OT; Smith SE; Muzny CA
  • Start Page

  • 7
  • End Page

  • 15
  • Volume

  • 25
  • Issue

  • 1