Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common vaginal infection that occurs due to an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. It is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but sexual activity can increase the risk of developing the infection. BV is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria, specifically Gardnerella vaginalis, which can cause inflammation and discharge. In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for BV.
BV occurs when there is an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. Normally, the vagina contains a mix of bacteria, including good bacteria (Lactobacillus) and harmful bacteria (Gardnerella vaginalis). The good bacteria keep the pH level of the vagina acidic, which helps to prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. However, when the number of harmful bacteria increases, the pH level of the vagina becomes more alkaline, which can cause BV.
Risk factors for BV include:
- Sexual activity: Having multiple sexual partners or a new sexual partner can increase the risk of developing BV.
- Douching: Douching disrupts the balance of bacteria in the vagina and can increase the risk of BV.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics can kill off the good bacteria in the vagina, which can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
- Hormonal changes: Changes in hormone levels, such as those that occur during pregnancy, can increase the risk of BV.
Many women with BV have no symptoms, but some may experience the following:
- A thin, grayish-white vaginal discharge
- A foul, fishy odor, especially after sex
- Burning during urination
- Itching around the vagina
To diagnose BV, a healthcare provider will perform a pelvic exam and take a sample of vaginal discharge. The discharge will be examined under a microscope to look for the presence of bacteria. A pH test may also be done to measure the acidity of the vagina. If the pH is higher than normal, it may be a sign of BV.
BV is treated with antibiotics, which can be taken orally or applied vaginally. Commonly prescribed antibiotics include metronidazole and clindamycin. It is important to complete the entire course of antibiotics, even if symptoms improve before the medication is finished. BV can recur, so it is important to take steps to prevent it from coming back. These steps may include:
- Avoiding douching
- Using condoms during sexual activity
- Not having multiple sexual partners
- Taking probiotics or eating foods that contain probiotics, such as yogurt
Bacterial vaginosis is a common vaginal infection that is caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. It is not a sexually transmitted infection, but sexual activity can increase the risk of developing the infection. BV is treated with antibiotics, and steps can be taken to prevent it from recurring. If you experience symptoms of BV, it is important to see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis and treatment.