What is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), also known as vaginal bacteriosis, is a very common type of vaginal infection which normally affects women of a childbearing age. It is a vaginal inflammation which results from the overgrowth of one of the several types of bacteria present in the vagina. It is not considered as a sexually transmitted disease but it is more common in women who are sexually active.

In the past this condition used to be called Gardnerella vaginitis, as it was assumed that the condition was caused by one particular species of bacteria referred to as Gardnerella vaginalis. But later on when more advanced medical techniques were adopted, it was discovered that there were other species of bacteria that live in the vagina which could also cause this condition. Bacterial vaginosis occurs when the “bad” bacteria known as anaerobes are greater than the good bacteria. In total there are four main species of bad bacteria which cause this condition namely:

  • Gardnerella vaginalis
  • Mycoplasma
  • Mobiluncus
  • Bacteroides

Is Bacterial Vaginosis Dangerous?

Any infection which affects a woman’s reproductive organs should always be a cause for concern and bacterial vaginosis is no exception to this rule. A few of the dangers which can result from bacterial vaginosis include:

a)     Miscarriage /abortion – This usually happens in the first 24 weeks of gestation period. This is because the concentration of vaginal bacteria usually increases (sometimes even doubles) during gestation. The bacteria may then infect the amniotic fluid or sac, hence endangering the fetus.

b)    Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) – This is an infection of the female reproductive organs that causes lower abdominal pain. PID can also damage other tissues in the female reproductive system which can cause infertility, abscess formation or ectopic pregnancy to name a few.

c)     Spontaneous preterm birth (SPTB) – This condition is characterized by giving birth to a baby before completing  37 weeks in the womb. This can be very dangerous because the baby can be born deformed or under-weight.

d)    Increase Susceptibility to STD’S – BV usually increases the chances of a woman contracting common STD’s like HIV, gonorrhea and Chlamydia. It also increases the chances of a HIV infected woman passing HIV to her sex partner.

e)     Post-surgical infection – a woman with BV has an increased risk of developing an infection after surgery which can lead to another surgical operation to remove the infected womb (hysterectomy).

Despite its seriousness, BV is very easy to treat and can be prevented without much effort.

Common symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis

  • Vaginal Discharge – This is usually the main sign. The vaginal discharge is characterized by being grey or white in color. Sometimes the discharge may have a strong unpleasant smell often described as fishy.
  • Burning sensation during urination.
  • Vaginal itching or irritation.
  • Light vaginal bleeding.

The last three symptoms are less common. However, it is important to note that these symptoms do not manifest in almost half of all women who have BV. In that case it is usually called Asymptomatic Bacterial Vaginosis. That is why it is recommended to go for regular medical check-ups (at least once in 2 months). Diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis involves obtaining a swab inside the vagina which is then tested for loss of acidity or the characteristic fishy odor.

Treatment Options for Bacterial Vaginosis

The doctor will usually prescribe one of the following medications:

Metronidazole This is an oral form of the antibiotic. It is also available as a gel that you insert into your vagina for five to seven days. However, metronidazole can have unpleasant side effects like stomach upset, abdominal pain or nausea.

Clindamycin (Cleocin) - This is an alternative BV treating antibiotic, often used if metronidazole did not work or the BV came back. It is available as a cream that you insert into your vagina for seven days. However, when using this treatment, contraception methods like latex condoms or diaphragms may become less effective; this usually persists for up to five days of using the cream.

Tinidazole – This antibiotic is taken orally as a single dose. It is recommended not to drink alcohol when taking this medication.

Even after undergoing treatment, bacterial vaginosis is a reoccurring condition which can come back within 3-6 months after treatment. However, you can follow the preventive tips I have outlined below to reduce the risk of developing BV.

- Minimize vaginal irritation by limiting the time you spend in hot tubs or whirlpool spas.

- Do not douche i.e. washing the vagina with a stream of water.
Adopting safe sexual practices like limiting the number of sex partners, using latex condoms or simply abstain from sexual intercourse.

- Do not wash underwear with strong detergents.
There’re many women who have suffered from severe bacterial vaginosis and still have been able to cure the condition, so if you suffer from BV, you should not give up or be embarrassed about it, seek treatment for the condition and all will be well.

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