If you think you may have Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), but aren’t sure, reading this article may help. The information presented here is not meant to replace the advice of a professional health care provider, but will help you form your own questions. Take these questions with you when you visit your doctor.
What is Bacterial Vaginosis?
Bacterial Vaginosis is an abnormal vaginal condition that is characterized by vaginal discharge and results from an overgrowth of certain kinds of bacteria in the vagina. It is not necessarily a true bacterial infection but rather an imbalance of the bacteria that is normally present.
Inside the vagina are a host of microbes (sometimes called “vaginal flora”) that keep this important part of the body healthy. Normally, beneficial bacteria are always at work cleaning and protecting the vagina. There are many things that can throw off this important balance of bacteria and that is where the trouble begins.
Recently there has been a lot of information in the news about beneficial bacteria in the intestines and the importance of keeping the digestive system healthy with a healthy diet. In the very same way, a healthy vagina needs healthy foods and plenty of water to create healthy bacteria and function best. Bacterial Vaginosis can also show up from things like douching, antibiotic use, menopause, a diet of too much sugar or overly processed foods, using birth control, hormonal therapy, or from taking other medications.
In the past, the condition was called Gardnerella vaginitis, after the bacteria that were thought to cause the condition. However, the newer name, Bacterial Vaginosis, reflects the fact that there are a number of species of bacteria that naturally live in the vaginal area and may grow to excess.
Gardnerella is not the sole type of bacteria causing the symptoms. Other kinds of bacteria that can be involved in bacterial vaginosis are Lactobacillus, Bacteroides, Peptostreptococcus, Fusobacterium, Eubacterium, as well as a number of other types.
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Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial Vaginosis and vaginal yeast infections are both common causes of vaginal discharge. They have similar symptoms, so it can be hard to know if you have BV or a yeast infection. When you visit your health care provider, you will be tested to confirm which infection you have. In diagnosing Bacterial Vaginosis, it is important to exclude other serious vaginal infections, such as Gonorrhea and Chlamydia.
With Bacterial Vaginosis, your discharge may be white or gray but may also have a fishy smell. Discharge from a yeast infection may also be white or gray but may look like cottage cheese.
Researchers are still studying how women get Bacterial Vaginosis. You can get this condition without having sex, but BV is more common in women who are sexually active. Having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners, as well as douching, can upset the balance of good and harmful bacteria in your vagina. This raises your risk of getting BV.
Bacterial Vaginosis can cause disturbing symptoms, including a very strong odor. This is your body’s way of telling you something very important that you need to pay attention to right away. Vaginal health is a good indicator of a woman’s overall health.
Most women do not experience symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis, but when they do they include vaginal discharge and vaginal odor. Sometimes this odor is especially strong after having sex. The smell after sex isn’t likely caused by the presence of semen, but as fluid within the woman’s body is flushed out, unhealthy bacteria can also get washed out too. Some experts believe that Bacterial Vaginosis symptoms get worse after unprotected sex because chemical compounds change the pH balance of the vagina.
Serious complications of Bacterial Vaginosis can occur during pregnancy and getting BV again is possible even after successful treatment. BV is the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15 to 44. But women of any age can get it, even if they have never had sex.
Risk Factors for Bacterial Vaginosis
As mentioned previously, women may be at greater risk of contracting Bacterial Vaginosis if they use a douche product. This is because douching changes the crucial balance of healthy bacteria and can make Bacterial Vaginosis symptoms worse.
You are also more at risk of getting BV if you do not use condoms or dental dams during sex. A dental dam is a small latex or polyurethane sheet used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases during oral sex. Oral sex can transmit herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, HIV, hepatitis, and genital warts.
About one in four pregnant women get BV. The risk for BV is higher for pregnant women because of the hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy. BV is twice as common in African-American women as in white women. Some experts believe this may be related to nutrition, especially in urban communities where much of the available food is fast food, over-processed foods with extra sugars, salts, and fats.
If you have an intrauterine device (IUD) or if the experience irregular bleeding during your periods, you may be more at risk of Bacterial Vaginosis. Men cannot “get” Bacterial Vaginosis (since it involves a vagina) but female sex partners can spread it to other women.
Treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis
Treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis can include prescription cream, gel, or common antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. Recurrence within three to 12 months is common, requiring additional treatment. Sometimes the problem returns because the medication only deals with the bacteria present in the vagina, and not with diet or lifestyle or other risk factors that can be throwing off the balance of healthy bacteria to begin with. If you have this condition often, discuss this with your healthcare provider.
All women should be concerned about their vaginal health, no matter what age they are. The vagina generally has an acidic pH, contains rich quantities of beneficial bacteria that help fend off infections and is naturally lubricated.
A healthy vagina secretes small amounts of discharge as it cleans and lubricates itself. In a healthy woman, this discharge smells earthy and clean and is associated with sexual arousal. When women experience significant changes in vaginal odor or have pelvic discomfort such as itching or burning, it is time to visit a healthcare provider.
Normally, vaginal pH is about 3.8 to 4.5, but douching can interfere with the vagina’s pH levels, reducing acidity and disrupting a healthy vaginal balance of beneficial bacteria, making it easy for unhealthy bacterial infections to grow.
If your vagina has a strong or unpleasant odor, see your doctor. A douche will only cover up the smell without curing the problem that’s causing it. Avoid using harsh soaps or cleansers on the vulva or inside the vagina, as these also can affect a healthy pH balance.
You may not realize it, but following a balanced, nutritious diet and drinking plenty of fluids are both key to vaginal and reproductive health. In fact, certain foods may be effective in treating vaginal health problems.
Yogurt can potentially help prevent yeast infections and other infections and aid in their treatment. Yogurt is rich in probiotics, so if a woman is prone to infections, taking a probiotic that is rich in Lactobacilli or eating yogurt every day can be helpful. Make sure the yogurt you choose does not have added sugar, which can make your vaginal problems worse. Choose a plain variety and sweeten with fresh fruit instead. If you don’t like yogurt look for an alternative such as probiotics tablets. These are available at health food stores, pharmacies, and many grocery stores. While you’re there, you may want to consider a cranberry supplement as well. The cranberry helps with urinary tract infections, which can be related and linked to vaginal health.
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Using condoms, either the male or female kind, during sex helps to protect against sexually transmitted infections. Don’t share sex toys. If you’re using condoms for protection, do not use an oil-based lubricant because they can cause the latex in condoms to break down. Never put petroleum jelly or baby oil inside of your vagina. It causes inflammation and can set you up for infection.
Wear breathable cotton underwear and avoid thongs. Change out of wet swimsuits and sweaty workout clothes as quickly as possible.
After a bowel movement, wipe from front to back to avoid bacterial contamination of the vagina and to lower the risk of bladder infection. Change sanitary pads and tampons regularly during your period. Wear panty liners to absorb normal vaginal discharge and change the liners often during the day.
Be sure you and your sexual partner are tested for sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Talk to each other about your test results before you have sex. Having sex with just one partner can lower your risk for Bacterial Vaginosis. Don’t abuse alcohol or drugs, which lowers your immune system and puts you at risk for many health problems, including sexually transmitted diseases.Having regular gynecological exams is crucial to maintaining your vaginal health.