Bacterial vaginosis is an inflammation of the vagina caused by an overgrowth of vaginal bacteria. The overgrowth of this bacteria alters the natural balance of the flora. Bacterial vaginosis commonly occurs in women who are in their reproductive years, but it can affect women of any age. Bacterial vaginosis is otherwise referred to as nonspecific vaginitis. It features the production of vaginal discharge resulting from the overgrowth of certain kinds of bacterial vagina.
The cause of bacterial vaginosis is yet to be fully understood. However, certain factors such as unprotected sex or frequent douching could heighten your risk of contracting the disease.
Bacterial vaginosis usually is mild and may disappear after some days. However, in some cases, it could lead to very serious problems. It is usually good to consult your physician when you observe the symptoms of the disease.
Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis
Many women who have bacterial vaginosis experience little or no symptoms. However, when the symptoms do occur, they include the following:
- A large amount of discharge from the vagina
- The vaginal discharge is characterized by a thin and grayish-white appearance
- Foul-smelling odor emanating from the vagina
- The vaginal discharge and odor become very visible after sexual intercourse.
- Severe pain during sexual intercourse or urination.
The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis can be experienced at any time during the menstrual cycle. It could occur before, during or after the discharge. Vaginal discharge that is characteristic of bacterial vaginosis varies from woman to woman. Therefore, any degree of vaginal discharge that looks abnormal should be examined.
Can bacterial vaginosis be sexually transmitted?
Yes and No!
Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal abnormality. The bacteria is unique to women. Hence, it can only be transferred between women who have other women as their sexual partners (lesbians). The disorder cannot be transferred to men.
Is bacterial vaginosis common?
Yes! It is a common condition. It occurs most frequently in women of childbearing age. Research shows that more than 29% of women in the United States are affected by the disorder. More so, 25% of pregnant women in the US are infected while 60% of women with an STD also have it.
What are the risk factors for bacterial vaginosis?
- Having multiple sexual partners. This is more common in women who have sexual relations with fellow women.
- Douching: Douching refers to the practice of rinsing the vagina with water or with a douching agent. This practice encourages the growth of anaerobic bacteria, causing an imbalance and hence, bacterial vaginosis. Women should note that the vagina is self-cleansing hence there is no need for douching.
- Natural lack of lactobacilli: According to researchers at Mayo Clinic, if your natural vaginal environment doesn’t produce enough of the good lactobacilli bacteria, you are more likely to develop bacterial vaginosis.
Complications associated with bacterial vaginosis
Generally, not much complications are associated with bacterial vaginosis. However, some issues that may result in serious cases include:
- Preterm birth. Studies have shown that pregnant women who have bacterial vaginosis tend to deliver ahead of the scheduled time. Babies delivered are usually of low weight.
- An episode of bacterial vaginosis makes you more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections including Herpes simplex virus, HIV, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia.
- Having bacterial vaginosis raises your odds of developing an infection after gynecological surgeries such as dilation & curettage or hysterectomy.
- In some cases, bacterial vaginosis may give rise to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID is a serious infection of the fallopian tubes and the uterus which may lead to infertility.
How can one minimize her chances of getting bacterial vaginosis? The following may be of help.
- Avoid douching: Your vagina has the ability to clean out itself. You do not need to rinse it with water or any douching agent for that matter. Doing so triggers the overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria that disrupts the vaginal floral balance.
- While bathing, use mild soaps and unscented tampons or pads. Strong agents causes vaginal irritation.
- Be careful while having sex. Limit the number of sexual partners you have; this is very important for women who have women as their sexual partners. As has already been stated, bacterial vaginosis cannot be transferred to men but across women, hence the need for lesbians to be careful. On the other hand, it advisable for heterosexual women to use latex condoms while having intercourse.
During diagnosis, your doctor will do the following:
- Inquire of your medical history. He or she may want to find out if you have had a case of STD or previous vaginal infections.
- Perform a pelvic exam.
- Analyze samples of your vaginal secretions. This is done to check for an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria in your vaginal flora. Also, analyzing the vaginal secretions may allow him to detect the presence of clue cells. Clue cells are simply vaginal cells covered with bacteria – a sign of vaginosis.
- Your vaginal pH will also be tested. If your vaginal pH is about 4.5 or higher (more alkaline), then it may be a sign that you are infected.
The following medications are usually prescribed:
- Metronidazole (Flagyl, Metrogel-vaginal)
- Clindamycin (Cleocin, Clindesse)
- Tinidazole (Tindamax)
Usually, there is no need to treat your male partner. However, there may be a need to examine your female partner (if you have one).
Bacterial vaginosis commonly recurs within 3 to 12 months after treatment. Research however is ongoing to explore treatments for recurrent bacterial vaginosis. It is advisable that you consult your physician if you notice a recurrence after treatment.