Understanding Bacterial Vaginosis

The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) records bacterial vaginosis (BV) as the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age. There are differing views among health experts as to what, if any, sexual activity plays in a woman's tendency to develop BV.


BV is caused when a chemical imbalance occurs in the vagina and the beneficial bacteria get outnumbered by the non-beneficial bacteria. The beneficial bacteria that normally live in the vagina are called Lactobacillus and it helps protect the vagina from infection and keep it clean. When a woman suffers from BV the Lactobacillus gets outnumbered by the Bacteroides, Mobiluncus, Gardnerella vaginalis and Mycoplasma hominis.

Women can get the infection simply because of hormonal changes or insufficient air circulation around the vaginal area. Sometimes multiple sexual partners or a change in sexual partners can increase a woman's likelihood of developing BV. Douching increases the risk of bacterial vaginosis and other vaginal infections because it washes away the good bacteria. An intrauterine device (IUD) can also increase the likelihood of BV.

The Result

The result of the growth of the non-beneficial bacteria is that the vaginal discharge becomes foul-smelling and changes to an abnormal gray or white color. Bacteria vaginosis can cause itching around the vagina and pain during urination. Irritation of the sensitive tissues of the vagina and vulva can cause swelling. Occasionally women can have BV but not show any symptoms. The only way these women would know they had an infection would be through a lab test of vaginal fluids collected during a physician's examination.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis needs to be done by a healthcare provider. Many women automatically assume they have a yeast infection when they experience vaginal odor and itching. But a yeast infection is completely different from a bacterial infection and requires different treatment.

The healthcare provider or physician will take a sample of vaginal fluid for testing. The fluid is examined under a microscope for a lack of lactobacilli bacteria, the presence of the non-beneficial bacteria and the presence of vaginal lining cells covered with BV germs.

A woman may suspect she has BV is her vaginal fluid changes and if there's a fishy odor. Sometimes the fishy odor can be more pronounced after sexual intercourse.

Treatment involves the use of antibiotics like clindamycin and metronidazole.

Possible Complications

Bacteria vaginosis is a common vaginal infection and there are rarely complications. Occasionally untreated BV can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) as the bacteria travel to the internal reproductive organs. PID can cause infertility or death to an unborn child if the woman is pregnant.

Pregnant women with BV, especially if it isn't caught soon enough and isn't treated, can have low birth weight babies or deliver their babies prematurely. Sometimes BV can increase the chance of getting STDs like an HIV infection or gonorrhea if practicing unprotected sex.


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