Objective: To investigate the use of over-the-counter and alternative medicines in women with chronic vaginal symptoms.
Methods: One hundred five patients, referred by their gynecologists for evaluation of chronic vaginal symptoms, were interviewed about their use of over-the-counter and alternative medicines during the preceding year, the amount of money spent on each, and whether or not their physicians had been informed of these treatments.
Results: The mean age was 36 years, and one-half had finished college. The median symptom duration was 2 years. Seventy-seven (73.3%) patients had self-treated with over-the-counter medications such as miconazole (74% of over-the-counter users), clotrimazole (38.2%), or povidone-iodine (13.2%). The median expenditure for over-the-counter use was %0 (range $2-1000). Forty-four (41.9%) had used alternative medicines, most frequently acidophilus pills orally (50%) vaginally (11.4%), yogurt orally (20.5%) or vaginally (18.2%), vinegar douches (13.6%), and boric acid (13.6%). The median expenditure for alternative medicines was $35 (range $0-1200). Fewer physicians were aware of the use of alternative (70.5%) that of over-the-counter medicines (88.3%). Although most patients thought that vulvovaginal candidiasis was the cause of their symptoms, the most common diagnoses at initial presentation were candidiasis in 29 (27.6%), vulvar vestibulitis in 18 (17.1%), irritant dermatitis in 16 (15.2%), and bacterial vaginosis in 11 (10.5%). Women who actually had candidiasis were more likely to have used alternative medicines (odds ration 2.31, 95% confidence interval 1.00, 5.42) than other patients.
Conclusion: Women with chronic vaginal symptoms often use over-the-counter and alternative medicines that add to health care costs and are unlikely to be of benefit.