What is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is an unpleasant medical condition of the vagina that produces stinky discharge due to imbalance and overgrowth of bacteria that is present in the vagina. Previously it was thought of as an infection from outside bacteria entering the body and causing the discharge and smell. Later on it was discovered that a number of different types of bacteria live inside the vagina such as Lactobacillus, Bacteroides, Peptostreptococcus, etc., When the count of Lactobacillus decreases and the count of other bacteria grows out of normal, that results in Bacterial Vaginosis.
Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis
- Unusual amount of discharge from the vagina
- The discharge looks thin (watery) and will be in greyish colour
- Unpleasant, foul smell emanating from the vagina
- Painful sexual intercourse
- In some cases, painful urination.
Discharge can happen anytime during the menstrual cycle. How much amount of discharge should be considered too much? That varies from woman to woman. One should carefully observe the amount of discharge and if you feel that it is more than what it is used to be, you need to contact your gynaecologist immediately.
What causes of Bacterial Vaginosis?
The actual cause of bacterial vaginosis is still not known. This need not come as surprise as there are several illnesses including cancer for which the exact reasons are still a mystery to medical experts. As said there are different types of bacteria that grow inside the vagina and lactobacillus is one of them. This bacteria produces Hydrogen Peroxide which acts as a cleaning agent. When the number of Lactobacillus bacteria goes down and other substances producing bacteria grows, that results in a stinky discharge from the vagina. Though the exact reason for this imbalance is not known yet, experts have some clues regarding who might be at risk of developing bacterial vaginosis.
- Woman who is sexually active, having multiple or new sex partners
- IUDs (Intra Uterine Devices) used for birth control
- Vaginal douching
- Medication that alters the bacterial balance inside the vagina as side effect
It is only partly true to say that women who are sexually active are at higher risk of developing bacterial vaginosis because women who are celibate also develop this condition. Since 60% of women who contract STD also suffer from bacterial vaginosis, experts put sexually active behaviour as a risk factor for this condition.
Is Bacterial Vaginosis same as yeast infection?
No, yeast infection also results in stinky vaginal discharge; it is a different medical condition. Though not serious, bacterial vaginosis can cause uncomfortable symptoms and dent the confidence of a woman in bed.
Can bacterial vaginosis spread through sex?
Bacterial Vaginosis is actually not considered as a Sexually Transmitted Infection. As the name goes by, bacterial vaginosis can’t affect men. Women who are gay or bi in their sexual nature are at higher risk because an exchange of bacteria can take place from unhealthy woman to a healthy woman.
Diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis
Your gynaecologist starts with some questions about the symptoms and may check you for fever, pelvic pain and history of your sexual behaviour including your previous diagnosis for Sexually Transmitted Infections/diseases.
Your gynaecologist may physically examine your pelvis region, appearance of vagina and cervix for possible infection. (Some STD can infect your inner parts of the reproductive system). Vaginal liquids may be collected and sent for STD Testing. An experienced gynaecologist can examine the fluids from the vagina under a microscope and figure out if the reason for smelly discharge is due to bacterial vaginosis. The pH of vaginal discharge may also be measured and a value of more than 4.5 (acidic) may be an indicator of Bacterial Vaginosis.
Quick “Whiff Test” – a drop of Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) when comes into contact with a drop of vaginal discharge and develops a fishy odor, your gynaecologist may confirm bacterial vaginosis condition.
Treating bacterial vaginosis
You should not think of cleaning your vagina and the internal parts thoroughly (vaginal douching) will get rid of the excess bacteria. You will also clean up the necessary bacteria along with unwanted ones making the condition worse. So, don’t try to treat the infection yourself, instead get in touch with a good gynaecologist near you.
In order to treat bacterial vaginosis, your gynaecologist must first figure out what type of bacteria has overgrown and prescribe anti-bacterial medication accordingly. Generic anti-bacterial drugs must not be self prescribed. Once the medicines are prescribed, make sure that you complete the course. If the results are not getting better, follow with your doctor for further investigation.
Important notes about bacterial vaginosis
- Bacterial vaginosis may reoccur in 30% of the cases within 12 months. Every time, the same medication may not work. You must see your gynaecologist for diagnosis and treatment.
- Pregnant women may also get bacterial vaginosis and it is important to get it treated before delivery. If left untreated, this can add up to the risk of pregnancy related complications.
- Just bacterial vaginosis (without any other infections) will go away with medications. You may not have to follow up with your doctor. In case, if you are experiencing other symptoms even after the completion of your prescription course, your gynaecologists may ask for further testing and evaluation.
- Women with bacterial vaginosis are at higher risk of acquiring Sexually Transmitted Infections.
- Preventing bacterial vaginosis is not really possible because the exact causes are not known. It is advisable to use protection when having sex with new or multiple partners, avoid vaginal douching and taking full course of prescribed antibiotics.
If you are having vaginal discharge that doesn’t subside after few weeks and if it starts stinking, make sure you make an appointment with a good gynaecologist. General physicians can also put you on to antibiotics but it is best to see a gynaecologist because he/she can check your body for any other kind of infections that you may have.