Bacterial vaginosis: separating fact and fiction

Wondering whether you are experiencing bacterial vaginosis?

Wondering whether you are experiencing bacterial vaginosis? Read on for more about the symptoms, causes and treatment options for women suffering from BV.

Many women will experience bacterial vaginosis (BV) at some point in their lives. It is a common condition which can cause changes to vaginal discharge as a result of harmful bacteria disrupting the vagina’s natural balance.

Although often mistaken for a yeast infection, or even an STI, BV is an incredibly common condition that will be experienced by roughly 1 in every 10 women at some point in their life.

Read more about some of the most common misconceptions about BV, how to recognise the symptoms, and how to find an effective bacterial vaginosis treatment.

Fiction: BV is a Sexually Transmitted Infection

Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection, although it can be brought on by sexual intercourse.

The vagina naturally maintains an abundance of ‘good’ bacteria, known as lactobacillus, in order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria (gardnerella vaginalis). The vagina is acidic, with a typical pH between 3.8 and 4.5. A number of factors can interrupt the pH of the vagina and make it less acidic, such as over-washing the vulva or using perfumed products around the vagina, taking baths instead of showers, wearing tight clothing and, of course, having sex or using sex toys.

While BV is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection, it is important to remember that women can pass it on to other women during sexual intercourse. The bacteria that commonly causes BV can also be detected through full STI screen testing if you are unsure about your symptoms, despite the fact that it is not a sexually transmitted illness.

Fact: Bacterial Vaginosis is Often Mistaken for Thrush

While the symptoms of BV and thrush are very different, the fact that thrush is more widely known by women means that bacterial vaginosis is often mistaken for something else.

While BV is caused by bacteria, thrush is a yeast infection. Some of the most common symptoms of thrush include intense itching around the vagina and labia, and stinging around the urethra. Discharge usually becomes thicker and more opaque, or watery, but there is often no odour.

Bacterial vaginosis, however, does not typically cause pain or discomfort around the vagina, and many women do not even notice that they are suffering from it. The most common symptom is an off-white discharge that smells unpleasant or ‘fishy’, which may be more noticeable following sexual intercourse.

Fiction: Douching or More Frequent Washing Can Prevent BV

While we are all aware that good hygiene practices are important to limiting the amount of bad bacteria that gets into our bodies, the vagina is capable of keeping itself clean, and maintaining a healthy balance in order to prevent infection. Douching can cause a significant disruption to the vaginal flora — even if you are only using water — and is not recommended.

Washing the vulva — that is, only the external genitalia — once a day with a non-perfumed, pH balanced soap is much healthier for the vagina.

For some women, bathing can make them more vulnerable to BV — particularly if they use scented bubble baths, oils, and bath bombs. If you experience recurrent infection, consider taking showers instead.

Fact: Bacterial Vaginosis Can Be Treated

While the vagina can rebalance its pH on its own, there are treatments available for those experiencing a persistent or recurrent infection. What’s more, BV can also increase your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection, such as chlamydia, as the vagina’s natural defences are disrupted.

Metronidazole is an effective bacterial vaginosis treatment, which can be taken as a single dose, or over the course of seven days. It is an antibiotic, also used in the treatment of gum infections and pelvic inflammatory disease, although it is not suitable for remote bacterial vaginosis treatment during pregnancy, or when you are breastfeeding.

Fiction: Acidic Foods Prevent Bacterial Vaginosis

While it may be easy to see how this misconception came about, there is no evidence that diet has any bearing on the pH levels inside the vagina. Consuming acidic foods such as dairy, red meat, and sugary snacks are not an effective preventative or bacterial vaginosis treatment, and it remains vital to your general health and wellbeing that you maintain a healthy and balanced diet.

When it comes to ensuring that we are following a healthy lifestyle, staying hydrated is of the utmost importance. Dehydration can cause our skin to become increasingly dry, which could lead to a change in the pH level within the vagina. Ensure that you are drinking plenty of water and sugar-free drinks throughout the day, in order to keep your body healthy.

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