Bacterial Vaginosis

What do we know about bacterial vaginosis (BV)? Chances are not a lot. In fact it is a surprisingly common condition for women (and likewise men). It is a condition involving the multiplication of ‘bad’ vaginal bacteria in and around the genitals, resulting in an infection with symptoms such as:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • A strong odour coming from the genital region

Symptoms

These symptoms are quite common to other sexually transmitted infections such as thrush and trichonomoniasis. As there is a level of ambiguity in some symptoms, there could be other issues that need to be resolved, therefore a visit to a sexual health clinic is recommended.

In BV (bacterial vaginosis) the discharge is conspicuously different than usual vaginal discharge and can be very thin and watery. You may also note an off-white grey hue to it, or cloudy whiteness. The difficulty here is that this type of discharge can either be present for a natural occurrence such as ovulation or an STI (although these tend to be much more obvious with a yellowish or green colour).

Secondly, you may notice a different smell from your vagina. There are a few warnings that point in the direction of BV:

  • The smell will be stronger than usual
  • It may be noticeable to others around you
  • Fishy aroma
  • It may be stronger after you’ve had sex

Due to the stronger smell, bacterial vaginosis can be extremely discomforting for many women although it is a very common vaginal infection in young women.

Diagnosing and treating

It is important to visit the doctor or sexual health centre if anything is seems wrong, as these symptoms could still mean something completely different (gonorrhoea and trichomoniasis for example), which may then need a completely different treatment. A medical professional can then examine your vagina for the discharge and smell. These tests should provide details as to whether the issue will clear up naturally of if there is an STI (sexually transmitted infection) involved.

Why does it happen?

The bacterial balance all over your body is fairly robust, however when the balance is tipped enough (more ‘bad’ than ‘good’), you are more likely to get an infection.

The pH of your vagina is actually slightly acidic; this helps to control the bacteria (called lactobacilli) in that area. When the lactobacilli happen to increase dramatically, this gives other bacteria a chance to multiply, shifting your levels and causing BV and the associated symptoms.

Prevention

It is very easy to tip the delicate balance, and it could be one of a number of things that has caused it. Whilst the treatment is clinically proven and highly effective, it is possible to get BV again and again. However, if you make a note of these possible causes, you will hopefully notice parallels in the future:

  • The Intrauterine Device (IUD) ~ your doctor may recommend another contraception if the IUD is your current method.
  • Having sex ~ BV is not an STI, however there is a link between being sexually active the contracting the infection. This is especially true if you have multiple sexual partners and tends to be more likely in heterosexual sex.
  • Too much cleaning ~ using soaps or water (otherwise known as douching) to clean your vagina is not recommended as is also the case for scented soaps and vaginal deodorant. These products can cause further imbalance in the pH levels and make things worse

Treatment

The most common form of treatment for bacterial vaginosis is an antibiotic, usually in the form of metronidazole, which should clear the symptoms up completely during their course. This is available in one tablet of a large dosage, or a course of tablets taken for a maximum of 7 days. The longer course of treatment is usually given, as there is less chance of experiencing side effects.

The second option of treatment is a gel that is applied to your vagina for up to 5 days.

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