Bacterial Vaginosis

Information on the causes of bacterial vaginosis symptoms.

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  1. What is Bacterial Vaginosis?
  2. Diagnosing Bacterial Vaginosis
  3. What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?
  4. Help for Bacterial Vaginosis
  5. More Information on Bacterial Vaginosis

What is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis, also referred to as BV, is a bacterial condition caused by an imbalance of bacterial flora in the vagina. There are a number of species of bacteria, known as anaerobes, which naturally occur within the vaginal area. Bacterial vaginosis occurs when anaerobes grow in excess. Anaerobes are usually kept in balance by ‘good’ bacteria known as lactobacilli, but when anaerobes multiply in excess, they can cause vaginal discharge and foul, fishy-smelling odors.

BV is the most common form of a vaginal infection and is experienced universally by many women. Although this condition does not cause severe health risks, the symptoms can appear disturbing, if not very unpleasant. Bacterial vaginosis should not be confused with yeast infections (Candidiasis ) or an infection with trichomoniasis (a sexually transmitted infection), as these are not caused by bacteria.

Diagnosing Bacterial Vaginosis

The symptoms of BV usually only come in the form of vaginal discharge and an unpleasant odor. Typically, there are no other symptoms. This discharge may be thin or heavy and clear or a grayish white. These symptoms can become more pronounced after sexual intercourse. The amount of discharge that is considered normal varies greatly from woman to woman. For this reason, if a change in vaginal discharge is noticed, it is advisable to seek a correct diagnosis.

Exams to Diagnose Bacterial Vaginosis

Symptoms that may indicate a more severe underlying problem include fever and pelvic pain. A doctor will likely discuss a woman’s sexual history and any previous sexually transmitted infections. A pelvic exam may be performed, including the vaginal wall and cervix. A speculum examination and subsequent swabs from high in the vagina will be obtained. If the cervix appears to be tender this usually indicates a more serious infection. He/she will also manually examine the ovaries and uterus.

In addition, although bacterial vaginosis isn’t a sexually transmitted disease, a doctor may want samples to test for them to be carried out. Lastly, the doctor may also perform a ‘whiff test’ with potassium hydroxide (KOH). When a drop of KOH comes in contact with a drop of the discharge from a woman with bacterial vaginosis, a particular fishy smell can result.

What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?

A combination of multiple bacteria must be present in order for BV to occur. Typically, there is a reduction in lactobacillus (the ‘good’ bacteria), in particular the hydrogen peroxide-producing species. Simultaneously there is an increase in other forms of bacteria, such as anaerobic bacteria i.e. bacteria that thrive in the absence of oxygen.

Other Possible Causes of Bacterial Vaginosis

Factors that are thought to play a role include antibiotics, tight underwear (especially thongs), new or numerous sexual partners, vaginal douching and cigarette smoking. However, it needs to be noted that the exact role sexual activity plays is not clear, as woman that have not had sexual intercourse can still develop bacterial vaginosis and there is no strong evidence of sexual transmission either. Other possible influences regarding the development of this condition are anemia and post-menopause.

Help for Bacterial Vaginosis

Conventional treatment for bacterial vaginosis consists of antibiotics. The more commonly prescribed antibiotics are Metronidazole and Cloecin. Metronidazole is considered the most effective treatment despite the possibility of unpleasant side-effects. The gels have been shown to cause possible yeast vaginitis as a side-effect of the medication. Alternatively, tinidazole has also proven to be effective in treating BV with fewer side-effects than metronidazole. These treatments are not fool-proof, as generally, a second course of antibiotics are prescribed when women experience recurring bacterial vaginosis.


More Information on Bacterial Vaginosis

Tips for Managing Bacterial Vaginosis
  • It is important to have your symptoms correctly diagnosed as the symptoms of BV can be very similar to that of a yeast infection
  • Don’t use douches, as they affect the delicate chemical balance of the vagina and can make a woman more susceptible to infections
  • Eat a lot of yogurt, as this contains the ‘good bacteria’ lactobacillus which will naturally kill of the ‘bad bacteria’ and help to maintain the pH balance within your vagina
  • Reduce alcohol intake and drink a lot of water
  • Only use fragrance-free soaps, as these upset the pH balance – you will find feminine products specifically formulated for sensitive areas.
  • Do not wear thongs, as they do not allow the vagina to breathe. Instead wear loose fitting cotton underwear
  • ‘Bad bacteria’ thrive on simple sugars, reducing the amount of carbohydrates and sugars from your diet, will help rid the body of any bad bacteria
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