Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a disease of the vagina caused by the imbalance of naturally occurring bacteria in the vagina and their subsequent excessive. This condition affects around a third of all women of reproductive age and while it is a disease proven to be associated with sex, bacterial vaginosis isn’t a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The relation between BV and sex will be considered in more detail in the later part of the text.
The exact cause remains identified as of now, but many risk factors have been identified, allowing the medical experts to draft some general guidelines on how to prevent and treat bacterial vaginosis. This condition is also marked by the absence of symptoms such as inflammation and is primarily identified through the changes in vaginal discharge, most notably, the characteristic unpleasant fishy odour. Because of this symptom, many women feel embarrassed and are reluctant to seek medical help. However, with proper treatment, the symptoms can be easily mitigated and the infection can go away in no time!
What’s on this page?
What causes BV?
The exact cause of the infection still remains largely unknown, but the chain of events leading to it can be reconstructed. Normally, the environment inside the vagina is slightly acidic with PH values usually between 3.8 and 4.2. However, once the bacterial flora gets disturbed for whatever reason, the environment will also get out of balance. When this happens, certain types of bacteria can begin to reproduce excessively, contributing to the imbalance and thus causing bacterial vaginosis.
The environment inside the vagina can get disturbed for various reasons. For many women, this happens when they have a new sex partner. In that situation, the introduction of new bacteria from the partner can contribute to the changes of the environment inside the vagina and cause this condition. Due to this mechanism, BV is seen less often in women who have a regular sex partner for a period longer than six months, since, over time, the environment of the vagina will get adapted to the new strain.
So, even though bacterial vaginosis onset is related to sex, it is not a sexually transmitted disease, but just an imbalance in the environment and bacterial growth. What’s more, this condition cannot be transmitted to the sexual partner, although there is some indication that lesbian intercourse can contribute to the spread of the infection.
Lack of lactic acid bacteria (lactobacilles)
In addition to already mentioned risk factors, studies have shown that the lack of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) can also trigger BV. In many cases, patients with bacterial vaginosis developed the condition after antibiotic therapy – a known cause for the decrease in beneficial lactobacilli.
Symptoms of BV
Once imbalance in the vaginal environment occurs and symptoms of bacterial vaginosis appear, the excess bacteria start having an impact not only on other types of bacteria but also on the cells in the vagina, leading to an increased amount of efflux. The vaginal discharge, in that case, contains damaged and dead cells from the vagina and cervix, as well as mucus from the mucous membranes. All of this causes the typical changes in the vaginal discharge including:
- Greyish-white colour of the discharge
- Viscous texture
- Typical fishy odour
- Smell gets more prominent after intercourse when the alkaline semen is mixed with vaginal secretion
For most cases, the fishy odour, colour and texture of the vaginal discharge are enough to diagnose the condition, but in rare cases, a physician or a gynaecologist will need to perform tests on the discharge in order to give a conclusive diagnosis.
BV vs Vaginal yeast infection
Many women tent do confuse bacterial vaginosis with vaginal yeast infection due to a similar array of symptoms. Usually, the yeast infection can be recognized by thicker vaginal discharge and itching in the genital area and lower abdomen. If you’re unsure about the type of your condition, it is best to consult a doctor, since taking the wrong treatment can, in this case, worsen the condition.
Bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy
If it occurs during pregnancy, BV can be rather dangerous as it is known to increase the risk of several more severe conditions and symptoms, including:
- Miscarriage or Stillbirth
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight of the baby
- Spread of the infection into the cervix during and after pregnancy
It is very important to note that during pregnancy, a typical antibiotic therapy can lead to serious complications, so if you suspect an infection, consulting a doctor is absolutely necessary.
How do you get BV?
The bacterial vaginosis occurs only in oestrogen-affected mucous membranes which means only women of reproductive age can get infected, while the women in menopause are at risk only if they are taking hormone replacement therapy. Aside from this, there are various factors that can increase the risk. Taking them into consideration, we can say that BV symptoms are more commonly manifested in:
- Sexually active women with changing sex partners
- Women in a new relationship
- Lesbian women
- Women currently on their period
- Women using hormone spirals
BV symptoms are relatively easy to recognize for a doctor, so often just the description of the fishy odour can be enough will be enough for the physician to identify the condition and recommend the proper treatment. Additionally, PH measurement might be required to determine whether the acidity of the vaginal environment is characteristic of the condition.
For many, BV usually goes away by itself, so if you’re experiencing only mild symptoms, the doctor probably wouldn’t recommend treatment. However, if the symptoms don’t seem to diminish, the doctor will usually recommend medications.
Metronidazole is one of the most commonly prescribed bacterial vaginosis treatments since it’s very effective in eliminating the most common types of bacteria that cause the problem. It is available both in tablet and cream form.
Natural remedies for BV
While there are many ideas about possible natural remedies for BV, all that are based on scientific facts fall into the category of do it yourself precautions. These include:
- Don’t use harsh soaps or other products near your genitals
- Don’t douche
- Use unscented tampons made from organic cotton
- Avoid intercourse during the infection
- Always use condoms
- Boost your immunity
- Eat food that is known to boost lactic acid bacteria presence
Is Bacterial Vaginosis dangerous?
Bacterial vaginosis is considered to be dangerous only if you’re pregnant. If that is the case, be sure to contact your doctor immediately regarding the advice for suitable and safe treatment. Otherwise, BV isn’t dangerous condition in any way but can be very annoying and uncomfortable.