Although many women have never heard of it, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is one of the most common vaginal infections and can lead to other problems. For many years, yeast infections have been the subject of widespread educational and advertising efforts, but little attention has been paid to a more common form of infection: bacterial vaginosis (BV).

BV is caused by an overgrowth of certain kinds of bacteria in the vagina.  Normally, the vagina contains protective bacteria called lactobacilli.  These “good” bacteria help maintain a normal pH level and hold down the growth of harmful microorganisms.  Anything that alters the normally acidic pH of the vagina can allow harmful organisms to take hold and flourish.

Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms

Bacterial vaginosis is associated with a foul-smelling (“fishy”) vaginal odor, a milky vaginal discharge, and vaginal burning or itching. If you have BV, you may experience one or more symptoms, or you may not have any symptoms at all.

Bacterial Vaginosis Complications

Recent research has shown that BV increases the risk of some serious complications.  These include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID); infections following pelvic surgery, D & C, or abortion; and complications related to pregnancy, such as preterm labor, premature rupture of membranes, amniotic fluid infection, or post-partum infections.

How Common Is BV?

It is now thought that BV is even more common than yeast infections.  Studies show up to one-third of asymptomatic women will be found to be carriers of BV.

How Do You Get BV?

The cause of BV cannot always be traced.  It may be sexually transmitted — but not always.  Having multiple partners will increase the probability of getting BV.  Many women diagnosed with BV are experiencing no symptoms.  This can make BV a serious hidden danger, especially because it could affect fertility and cause pregnancy complications.

What Is The Difference Between BV And A Yeast Infection?

A vaginal yeast infection is usually caused by Candida albicans, a fungus rather than bacteria.  Its symptoms include itching, burning and a “cottage cheese-like” discharge.  Yeast infections are usually odorless, and have not been associated with an increased risk of any serious medical complications.

Can I Detect BV Myself?

A fishy vaginal odor, burning, and a milky discharge are indicators of BV.  However, these symptoms are not always present.  If you suspect that you have BV or some other type of vaginal infection, you should consult your gynecologist or nurse practitioner for proper diagnosis and treatment.

How Will The Doctor Tell If I Have BV?

The first thing your doctor may do is check the appearance of your vagina and cervix.  Women with BV typically have vaginal pH levels higher than 4.5, while normal levels are in the 4.0 range.  BV may cause the secretions to have a bad odor, but sometimes this is hard to detect.  A drop of potassium hydroxide placed on secretions on a microscope slide will produce a positive “whiff test” if BV is present.  An additional test is the examination of the slides under a microscope to rule out the additional presence of yeast or trichomonas.

How Does BV Affect My Sex Life?

There is no scientific evidence that BV affects sexual relations, but many women say they are bothered by the odor and vaginal burning during — and especially after — intercourse.

Is BV A Sexually Transmitted Disease?

Although BV is more common in women visiting clinics for sexually transmitted diseases, BV has also been reported in young girls and women who are not sexually active.

What Is The Treatment For Bacterial Vaginosis?

One oral and two topical treatments exist for BV.  Vaginal medicines include metranidazole gel (MetroGel), clindamycin cream, or ovules (Cleocin) used at bedtime for 1 to 7 nights, depending on the brand chosen.

The oral method is the use of metranidazole (Flagyl) tablets given orally for 5 to 7 days.

After treatment, could I get BV again?

As with most vaginal infections, recurrences of BV are common.  Some women have flare-ups of infection when they are on birth control pills or when pregnant.

What About Sex During Treatment?

It is recommended that your partner wear a condom while you are being treated.  The male is often not treated.
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For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Center for Women’s Health at 913-491-6878.