Bacterial Vaginosis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Janis

By Janis | Updated December 4, 2023

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is a common but often misunderstood vaginal condition. It affects many women in their reproductive years and results from an imbalance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the vagina. 

Effective treatment is crucial to alleviate symptoms and prevent complications. We will discuss the best treatment options for BV, including both oral medications and topical applications. 

Moreover, we will provide tips on reducing your risk of developing this condition and maintaining a healthy vaginal environment.

Despite its generally mild nature, Bacterial Vaginosis can sometimes lead to significant risks and complications, especially during pregnancy. We will delve into these issues and outline the instances when seeking medical attention is essential. 

Bacterial Vaginosis Clinical Overview 

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is a common infection in women caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vaginal microbiota. 

Normally, your vagina contains a balance of Lactobacillus species, like Lactobacillus crispatus, and anaerobic bacteria. Disruption in this balance leads to vaginal dysbiosis and BV.

Discharge Symptoms

Discharge symptoms are often the first, and sometimes the only, signs of Bacterial Vaginosis. Understanding these symptoms aids in early detection, which can help manage this common yet distressing condition.

The primary symptom of BV is a thin, gray, white, or green vaginal discharge accompanied by a foul-smelling, “fishy” odor. 

Itching and Burning Sensation

The combination of itching on the vagina and burning sensation during urination can point towards Bacterial Vaginosis. 

Such symptoms, though uncomfortable, are crucial warning signs requiring attention.

Causes of Bacterial Vaginosis

Although the exact cause of BV is not fully understood, sexual activity is considered a main risk factor. Reduced concentration of lactobacilli, a type of bacteria typically found in the vagina, is also associated with BV.

Multiple Sexual Partners

Engaging in sexual activities with multiple partners increases the risk of developing Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). The diverse bacteria from different partners can disrupt the natural balance in the vagina, resulting in BV.

However, it is essential to clarify that BV is not a sexually transmitted infection. While the connection between BV and sexual activity is significant, this condition can occur in women who have never had sexual intercourse. Regular partner change simply raises the risk.

Douching

Douching is the practice of washing or cleaning out the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids. Douching alters the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina, hence causing BV.

However, not all women who douche will get BV. Due to the potential risks and minimal benefits, most health professionals advise against this practice. It’s best to allow your body to naturally maintain its balance of bacteria.

IUD

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) can potentially cause Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). The insertion of an IUD may disrupt the balance of bacteria in the vagina and lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

However, not all women who use an IUD will develop BV. Timely and correct IUD insertion and removal, under the supervision of a healthcare professional, can minimize the risk of developing this condition.

Diagnosis

BV is usually diagnosed through a pelvic examination by a healthcare professional. 

They may take a sample of vaginal secretions to check under a microscope or conduct additional laboratory tests, which involve the Nugent score, a test that assesses the presence of specific vaginal discharge bacteria. 

Apart from physical examination, your healthcare provider may also inquire about the symptoms you’ve been experiencing and your medical history.

Preferred Treatments for Bacterial Vaginosis

It is important to consult your healthcare provider for the most appropriate treatment for your specific situation. 

Antibiotics

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) can be effectively treated with prescribed antibiotics. These can be administered as oral medications or as a gel or cream that you insert into the vagina using an applicator.

Prescribed antibiotics counteract the growth of certain bacteria, effectively treating the condition.

While taking antibiotics, it’s important to avoid consuming alcohol until at least three days after treatment due to potential adverse effects. 

Vaginal Suppositories

Boric acid vaginal suppositories may be considered an alternative treatment for persistent or recurring BV and are often used when traditional antibiotics fail. The acid creates an unfriendly environment for harmful bacteria, hence maintaining balance.

Despite its benefits, it’s essential to note that boric acid suppositories are not safe for pregnant women or oral consumption. 

However, their effectiveness is not as well established as antibiotics, and they should only be used under the guidance of a professional.

Probiotics

Probiotics may be recommended to help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina. Although there is limited evidence supporting their effectiveness in treating BV, probiotics may be helpful for preventing the recurrence of the infection.

Reducing the Risk for Bacterial Vaginosis

It’s essential to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in your vagina to lower your risk for Bacterial Vaginosis. 

Safe Sex Practices

Use condoms consistently and correctly to prevent the spread of bacteria during sex. 

Also, limit your number of sex partners, as engaging with multiple partners can increase your risk of Bacterial Vaginosis.

Consider washing sex toys with soap and warm water after each use or using a fresh condom if sharing toys.

Healthy Hygiene Habits

Avoid douching, as it can disrupt your vaginal microbes and lead to infections. 

Instead, practice good hygiene by washing the external genital area with mild soap and water daily. Remember, a healthy vagina naturally cleans itself.

Additionally, wiping from front to back after using the toilet helps prevent the spread of bacteria from the rectum to the vagina.

Probiotic Intake Recommendation

Increase the number of probiotics in your diet, as these beneficial bacteria help maintain a balanced vaginal environment. 

Probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt, but you may also consider taking supplements as recommended by a healthcare professional.

Preventive Hygiene Measures

Using an applicator for contraceptive creams or suppositories can introduce new bacteria. Make sure to clean any such applicator thoroughly after each use. 

Choose cotton underwear to promote breathability and reduce the moisture buildup that could encourage harmful bacteria. 

Risks and Complications of Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), if untreated, has the potential to escalate into serious medical conditions. This can considerably impact a woman’s quality of life and reproductive health.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) increases your risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like HIV. The imbalance in natural vaginal bacteria can make you more susceptible to these infections.

You’re also at a higher risk if you have multiple or new sex partners or don’t use condoms.

Pregnancy and BV

Pregnant women with BV are more susceptible to pregnancy complications. These may include preterm delivery and low birth weight babies. 

It is essential to ensure early diagnosis and treatment to minimize risks.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Another possible complication is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This condition can occur when the bacteria spread from the vagina to other reproductive organs. 

PID might lead to infertility and long-term pelvic pain if left untreated. Prompt treatment can help reduce complications and improve your overall health.

When to Call a Doctor

If you experience an unusual vaginal discharge with a strong odor, it is essential to consult your doctor. Bacterial Vaginosis can cause symptoms such as itching and burning during urination.

In addition to the discomfort, BV increases the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections, like HIV. 

Seek medical attention if you experience persistent pain or nausea, especially if accompanied by stomach pain.

Your doctor will conduct a medical history and perform tests such as a pelvic exam to diagnose Bacterial Vaginosis. Prompt treatment with antibiotics can effectively address the infection and alleviate symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most effective treatments for Bacterial Vaginosis?

The most effective treatments for Bacterial Vaginosis are prescribed antibiotics, ask your medical practitioner for more information.

These can be taken orally or applied as a gel or cream, inserted into the vagina with an applicator.

How can one reduce the risk of contracting Bacterial Vaginosis?

To reduce your risk, practice good hygiene, avoid douching, and limit your number of sexual partners. 

Supporting a healthy balance of vaginal bacteria by not using harsh soaps or scented products can also help you maintain a healthy vaginal environment.

What are the risks and complications associated with Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial Vaginosis heightens the risk of sexually transmitted infections, as well as pregnancy complications if left untreated.

Additionally, some women may experience recurrent infections after treatment.

When should you consult a doctor for Bacterial Vaginosis?

You should consult a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms associated with Bacterial Vaginosis, such as an unusual vaginal discharge, itching, burning, or a fishy odor. 

It is essential to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and treatment.

How does Bacterial Vaginosis differ from a yeast infection?

Bacterial Vaginosis results from an imbalance of vaginal bacteria, while yeast infections occur due to an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida. 

The symptoms can be similar, but treatments differ. Therefore, it’s crucial to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

What are some reliable home remedies for Bacterial Vaginosis?

Though home remedies may provide temporary relief, they are not proven effective long-term treatments. Prescribed antibiotics are the only reliable treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis. 

Consult your doctor before attempting any home remedies to ensure proper care and avoid complications.