Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is one of the most common causes of infection in the vagina. It is also known as vaginal bacteriosis or anaerobic vaginal discharge or Gardnerella vaginal discharge.
Despite the fact that it is commonly associated with sexual intercourse with a new partner, bacterial vaginosis is not considered as an STI (sexually transmitted infection).
The causes of BV are unknown, but it is understood that it results from an introduction and rapid growth of several types of bacteria in the vagina which upset the delicate eco-system of the vagina. The “good type” of bacteria which exists in the vagina controls the growth of the “bad type” but, in the case of bacterial vaginosis, this delicate balance is upset and the bad outnumber the good.
Read: Preventing vaginal infection
Often using antibiotics, soaps and having sex can leave the vagina more alkaline than usual and this may be one of the reasons for the unusual overgrowth of bacteria, though it has also been associated with douching and smoking. And even excess stress in some cases.
Symptoms of a vaginal infection
Depending on the cause behind the vaginal infection, the symptoms may vary, and some women may not exhibit any symptoms.
However, the most common symptoms include:
• Abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odour – usually thin, off-white or grey discharge with a “fishy” smell which may be stronger during menstruation or after sex.
• Burning during urination.
• Itching around the outside of the vagina.
• Discomfort during intercourse.
How BV is diagnosed
BV is most often diagnosed after the doctor has identified the symptoms, conducted a pelvic examination and taken a sample of any vaginal discharge.
While BV has not been linked to any serious medical problems, it can cause complications in certain cases, such as:
• If you are pregnant as this increases the risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery and uterine infection after pregnancy.
• If you undergo a surgical pelvic procedure such as an abortion, or hysterectomy as this could increase your risk of a pelvic infection.
• If you are exposed to a sexually transmitted infection you are more likely to catch the infection. It could also significantly increase a woman’s chance of HIV infection by up to four times and make her more susceptible to other STIs.
Read: Symptoms of vaginal infection
Ensuring you get the correct treatment as early as possible can alleviate these problems.
How it’s treated
BV is most commonly treated with over-the-counter topical (vaginal) or oral antibiotics. Depending on the severity, treatment may be long term or require repeat treatments.
While you’re being treated for BV doctors generally recommend that you abstain from sexual activity.
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Image: Woman holding paper over her vagina with question mark from Shutterstock