A condition experienced by most women at some or other time in our lives is BV (bacterial vaginosis). This is basically vaginal inflammation caused by the overgrowth of bacteria naturally found in the vagina, which upsets the natural balance. It is not the same as thrush (candida), which is fungal, not bacterial. Although quite common, bacterial vaginosis can sometimes be tricky to treat, depending on the cause and how it is diagnosed.
The first and most important thing to note is that BV is not in itself an STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease), although it can make women more susceptible to STDs if they have BV.
BV can occur in women of all ages and the risk factors include:
- Multiple sex partners. As stated above, BV is not an STD, but it can be aggravated by sex with different partners.
- Douching. The practice of rinsing out your vagina with water or a cleansing agent (douching) upsets the natural balance of your vagina. This can lead to an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria, and cause bacterial vaginosis. Since the vagina is self-cleaning, douching isn’t necessary.
- Natural lack of lactobacilli bacteria. If your natural vaginal environment doesn’t produce enough of the good lactobacilli bacteria, you’re more likely to develop bacterial vaginosis.
- Being pregnant. If left untreated, BV can lead to a risk of early delivery.
Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms
About half of the time, women with BV have no symptoms. However, they can include:
- Burning feeling when you urinate
- A fishy smell
- Itching and pain in the vagina
- Thin white, gray, or green discharge
It isn’t the same as a yeast infection. Those often have a thick white discharge that doesn’t smell.
Possible causes of BV are:
- Hormonal changes
- Change in washing powder, detergents, soaps or shower gels
- Sex with multiple partners
If you notice any of the above symptoms and think you may have a vaginal infection, it is important to get it diagnosed as soon as possible to eliminate an STD or a fungal infection. If it is found to be BV, treatment options are: antibacterial pessaries, vaginal gels or oral medication.
Note that vaginal douches must not be used too often, because they flush all the “good” bacteria out, and that can actually cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria that may lead to a new BV infection, or a fungal condition like thrush.
Most importantly, BV is a common condition and very treatable, but the longer you leave any infection, the trickier it is to treat. Untreated BV can lead to conditions such as pelvic inflammation, for example, which can affect fertility. Your gynaecologist is your friend here, so make sure you have regular gynae check-ups and consult them if you suspect something is not as it should be.
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