Bacterial vaginosis is a common vaginal inflammatory condition in women. In fact, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal condition in women aged 14-49.
Bacterial vaginosis, or BV for short, refers to the inflammation of the vagina due to an imbalance in the natural flora of the female reproductive tract. An overgrowth of bad bacteria causes irritation and inflammation in the genital region, which involves the vagina and its surrounding tissues, including the vulva. Bacterial vaginosis is an easily treatable condition and rarely poses any serious harm. Most of the time, the condition resolves on its own. However, getting appropriate treatment lowers the chances of any serious complications significantly.
While bacterial vaginosis is not a serious condition, it can lead to serious complications. One of the most dreaded complications is the increased risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases. Since this condition is so common in women of reproductive age, it is worth taking the time to understand what causes it, what the symptoms are, and how a woman can effectively manage this condition.
AN OVERVIEW OF BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS
A vagina normally contains microbes in its natural flora. These microbes include good bacteria (lactobacilli) and bad bacteria (anaerobes). While both these groups serve important functions, the bad bacteria can act as pathogens (disease-causing agents) whenever an imbalance in the natural flora causes their numbers to increase.
This imbalance and the subsequent overgrowth of bad bacteria is exactly what brings on the inflammation associated with bacterial vaginosis. Once triggered, the overgrown anaerobes cause inflammation and discharge from the vagina. A drop in the levels of lactobacillus, which keeps the vagina acidic, also aids in
As mentioned above, women of reproductive age are most prone to developing this vaginal condition. However, all women can develop this condition at any stage of their life. We know that a certain imbalance in the natural flora of the vagina brings about the onset of this disease. However, little is known about the exact causes which trigger this imbalance and the subsequent inflammation.
Possible factors which might disrupt the normal balance between good and bad bacteria of the vagina have been identified. While their exact mechanism of action is unknown, these factors have been shown to cause bacterial vaginosis in women. These include:
- Being sexually active
- Using douches
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Natural lack of lactobacilli
SYMPTOMS OF BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS
Many women with bacterial vaginosis may never show any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may be mild and can be easily missed for a long period of time. However, it is important to identify the danger signs because persistent bacterial vaginosis can cause quite a lot of complications if left untreated for too long.
The signs and symptoms of bacterial vaginosis mimic those of sexually transmitted diseases. These include itching, burning, and irritation in the vagina. There may also be associated discharge, which can be green, white, or gray in color. A fishy odor right after sex is a particular sign of bacterial vaginosis. Women with bacterial vaginosis may also experience pain or burning during urination.
Complicated bacterial vaginosis could also include additional symptoms, depending on what type of complication has occurred.
While this condition may not cause any serious health damage on its own and may even resolve spontaneously, persistent bacterial vaginosis can lead to a plethora of complications that are extremely harmful in more than one way.
IS BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS CURABLE?
Yes, bacterial vaginosis is completely curable with effective treatment. Usually, antibiotics are used to treat this condition since an overgrowth of bad bacteria causes it. Your doctor may prescribe a specific antibiotic depending on the culture reports from vaginal discharge.
In addition to curing bacterial vaginosis, treatment with antibiotics also decreases the risk of acquiring other STDs, which is often a major concern with this condition.
It is important to watch for the recurrence of symptoms since bacterial vaginosis can return even after successful treatment. Contact your doctor immediately on the first signs of recurrence.
HOW IS BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS DIAGNOSED?
The diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis is fairly simple to make. Your healthcare provider may ask questions about your sexual history and past medical history to eliminate other causes. They may also examine your vagina and the discharge to confirm their diagnosis. Specialized tests are only rarely needed for this diagnosis. A culture report identifies the organisms responsible for the inflammation, and appropriate antibiotics are then given.
HOW WOULD I KNOW IF I HAVE BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS?
The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis may resemble those of an STD. However, this condition is not as dangerous as an STD and has a viable cure. Therefore, it is important to know how to differentiate between this condition and other STDs if you have any symptoms.
Vaginal discharge of recent onset brings about the suspicion of bacterial vaginosis and some sexually transmitted diseases. Vaginal discharge can also be associated with vaginal yeast infections. Suppose your condition does not resolve with over-the-counter medication for a yeast infection. Still, you have been practicing safe sexual methods and haven't had a change of sexual partners recently. In that case, you likely have bacterial vaginosis.
However, in any case, it is important to contact your doctor for a confirmation of the diagnosis before you can start any sort of treatment.
COMPLICATIONS OF BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS
As mentioned before, bacterial vaginosis is not life-threatening on its own. However, if left untreated, long-standing BV can bring about some bothersome complications. Here are some complications that might arise if you leave your condition untreated:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Increased susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases
- Preterm birth in case of pregnancy
- Increased risk of infection after gynecological procedures
IS BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS PREVENTABLE?
Bacterial vaginosis is preventable if you successfully eliminate the risk factors from your daily routine. Here are some measures that you can take to prevent acquiring this condition in the first place:
- Use mild, non-irritant soaps and body washes to cause minimum vaginal irritation
- Use tampons or pads which do not cause massive inflammation in the genital region
- Avoid using a douche to clean your vagina, as the vagina is perfectly capable of cleaning itself through its secretions
- Always employ safe sex practices such as using a condom during intercourse
- Stop smoking to minimize your risk of developing this condition
- Limit your number of active sexual partners
- Carefully clean sex toys after every use
- Wipe in a front-to-back motion when cleaning your genitals
BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS AND PREGNANCY
Bacterial vaginosis can cause dreadful complications during pregnancy. Preterm birth and low birth weight are two major concerns in pregnant women who have bacterial vaginosis.
Preterm and low birth weight babies are more likely to develop serious medical conditions at birth. Most of these babies expire within the first month of life due to serious complications.
It is important to receive treatment for BV during pregnancy regardless of whether you are symptomatic or not. Your doctor may prescribe pregnancy-safe medications to treat your condition.