The term bacterial vaginosis will definitely send shivers along the spine of all women. Did you know that the vagina is host to a lot of bacteria? Normally, the vagina has a mixture of good bacteria and bad bacteria, but when the balance between the good and bad bacteria is upset, then you have a problem called bacterial vaginosis. Bad vibes indeed.
Bacterial vaginosis, also known as vaginal bacteriosis, is a disease of the vagina usually caused by bad bacteria in the vagina. It is characterized by an abnormal homogeneous off-white vaginal discharge which has a foul odor. This disease of the vagina is often associated with having a new sexual partner and/or having multiple sexual partners. It is often mistaken for trichomoniasis or yeast infection, both of which are not caused by bacteria.
Bacterial Vaginosis: Causes of Infection and Risks
Researchers and doctors do not know the root cause of the imbalance of bacteria within the vagina. The vagina is home to many microorganisms which include Lactobacillus crispatus and Lactobacillus jensenii. These good bacteria help prevent the bad bacteria in the vagina from proliferating and multiplying to the level where they will cause symptoms to appear.
The bad bacteria that cause bacterial vaginosis are plenty and diverse, included among them are Bacteroides, Gardnerella vaginalis, Mobiluncus, and Mycoplasma. When the number of Lactobacillus in the vagina decreases, the more resistant bad bacteria can gain a foothold and multiply.
According to some studies, bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted disease. Sexually inactive women can also get this disease. Rather, it is caused by an imbalance in the chemistry and biology of the normal flora present in the vagina. There are certain factors that increase the risk of getting bacterial vaginosis such as:
- If you are infected with other sexually transmitted infections
- Having a new or multiple sexual partners
- If you are using antibiotics
- If you use intrauterine devices for contraception
- Vaginal douching
Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms
Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis usually include an abnormal off-white vaginal discharge that has a bad smell. Some women describe that the discharge has a fishy smell and looks thin and grayish-white. It is also more noticeable after having sexual intercourse. Women experience vaginal discharge during the course of their menstrual cycle so determining the amount of discharge when a woman is infected with bacterial vaginosis will be a bit difficult to assess. However, keep in mind that normal vaginal discharge can change in appearance and consistency throughout the menstrual cycle; to make it easier for you to keep track of them; you can take note of your vaginal discharge in a journal daily.
For some women who are infected with this disease, they do not experience any symptoms at all and the condition usually resolves itself after a few days.
Bacterial Vaginosis Diagnosis
To correctly diagnose this disease, the doctor should get a swab from inside the vagina. It should be tested for:
- Whiff Test – the whiff test is used to look for the characteristic fishy odor on wet mount. A small amount of potassium hydroxide is added to the sample and if there is a fishy odor, it will be considered as a positive whiff test.
- Acid Test – the healthy vagina is slightly acidic and usually has a pH level of 3.8 to 4.2. To do this test, the sample is tested against litmus paper. If it is not acidic. It is suggestive of bacterial vaginosis.
- Clue Cell Test – a drop of sodium chloride is added to the sample and it is checked for the presence of clue cells (epithelial cells which are coated with bacteria) with the use of a microscope.
If the patient tested positive two out of the three lab tests, a diagnosis of this vaginal disease is given. In clinical practice, the disease is diagnosed with the use of the Amsel criteria:
- Presence of thin, white or yellowish homogeneous discharge
- Presence of clue cells in the discharge when viewed under the microscope
- Alkaline vaginal fluid that has a pH of more than 4.5
- Presence of a fishy odor when the sample is added with an alkali (potassium hydroxide) solution
- There are several things you can do to prevent getting bacterial vaginosis.
- Avoid vaginal douching so you can prevent flushing out the healthy bacteria in the vagina
- Limit the number of sexual partners you have. Having sex with different men alters the environment of your vagina.
- If you are having sex with women, make sure to use a condom because it can be passed between women
- (however, it cannot be passed from woman to man). Make sure to carefully wash shared sex paraphernalia after use.
- Always practice safe sex whether or not you are infected with this disease. Remember that prevention is better than cure.
Bacterial Vaginosis: Medical and Herbal Treatments
Oral and vaginal antibiotics such as clindamycin or metronidazole are effective as bacterial vaginosis treatment. Oral metronidazole can cause minor side effects; vaginal antibiotics can cause yeast vaginitis and yeast infections. Some doctors prescribe tinidazole because it causes fewer side effects; however, if you are breastfeeding, you should not breastfeed for three days after taking tinidazole. Keep in mind that this disease can recur so a stronger antibiotic may be prescribed to you if it does.
Using Lactobacillus acidophilus that is usually found in yogurt or supplements for bacterial vaginosis is not recommended because these bacteria in yogurt is not the same as the ones living in the vagina.
This vaginal disease is not serious per se but it can lead to complications if not treated immediately. For pregnant women who are infected with this disease, it can cause preterm labor, infection in the amniotic fluid, and infection of the uterus after delivery. It is best to get tested if you are pregnant and experiencing symptoms of the disease.
Now that you know all about bacterial vaginosis and you think you may be experiencing the symptoms, you should consult with your gynecologist immediately and seek treatment for this vaginal disease.