Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a disturbance of the bacterial balance in the vagina. This disturbance results in a less acid environment, in which certain bacteria (Gardnerella vaginalis and other species) have the opportunity to grow excessively. Although bacterial vaginosis is not a serious condition, it can cause nasty symptoms.
Under normal circumstances, the acidity in the vagina is in balance. Most germs can not live in this balance. A too low acidity level of the vagina can, among other things, be caused by:
- Washing the vagina with soap.
- Keeping a tampon for too long.
- Sex without a condom.
- Using specific antibiotics.
- Inserting an IUD.
- Hormone levels.
Because everyone carries the bacteria all the time, people cannot infect each other during sex. Bacterial vaginosis is therefore not a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Bacterial vaginosis causes a gray-white, sticky discharge from the vagina. Sometimes, gas bubbles are visible. The discharge smells sour and may possibly have a fishy smell. The amount of discharge varies, sometimes much but at times a little bit. If the discharge comes into contact with sperm, the odor is even stronger. Sometimes, there is itch or pain and vaginal ‘gas’. The symptoms may arise suddenly.
Approximately half of women with bacterial vaginosis have no symptoms. A man can become infected with certain bacteria, which grow excessively in women with bacterial vaginosis. Usually, however, this causes no symptoms.
Making the diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis is done by determining the acidity of the vaginal discharge, performing an odor test and viewing the discharge under the microscope.
If there are no or few symptoms, it is possible to await spontaneous recovery of the normal balance. This usually takes a few weeks. If bacterial vaginosis causes symptoms, treatment with antibiotics is necessary. A male partner doesn’t need to be treated as well. For someone with a female partner, however, it is recommended that she is examined as well.
Although healing usually occurs, bacterial vaginosis can quite easily come back. If not treated properly, the infection can lead to complications. The condition may ‘ascend’ and lead to inflammation of the fallopian tubes and the pelvic region, which in turn can cause reduced fertility. Women with bacterial vaginosis are more likely to get HIV infection and other STDs. Pregnant women with the infection run a higher risk of premature birth. Despite precautions and treatment, the symptoms may return in some women on a regular basis.
It is important that the vagina returns to and retains its normal acidity. The following precautions can help:
- Wash with lukewarm water and don’t use soap. It is sufficient to rinse off the pubic area in the shower with lukewarm water. The inside of the vagina cleans itself.
- Wear cotton panties and do not use pantyliners. That prevents the sweltering climate, in which bacteria and fungi feel at home.
- Several products are available at the drugstore or pharmacy that can reduce the acidity level of the vagina.
- Avoid the use of spermicidal pasta.
- (Temporarily) use a condom during sex.
- Always wipe any stool from front to back.