Do I Have Bacterial Vaginosis?

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Bacterial vaginosis is relatively common and, thankfully, treatable. It’s a mild infection that affects females of various ages. Unfortunately, the cause isn’t entirely understood. However, there are certain activities you’ll want to avoid and preventative measures you can take if you’re concerned about bacterial vaginosis. 

What Is Bacterial Vaginosis? 

Bacterial vaginosis, commonly called BV, is a mild infection from an overgrowth of bacteria causing your vagina to become inflamed. It usually affects females from early teens to late forties in their reproductive years. It is the most common vaginal issue in females ages 15 to 44. However, it can affect females of almost any age.

It’s important to know that your vagina naturally contains bacteria. You can get BV only when you have too much of a certain kind. Your vagina has different types of bacteria that are considered normal and healthy. Gardnerella vaginalis is one type and the most common cause of BV. 

If you upset the pH of your vagina by doing things like douching or even taking certain medications, the levels of the bacteria can become unbalanced. Infection can set in when one bacteria flourishes in too many numbers. 

How Is Bacterial Vaginosis Spread? 

Though bacterial vaginosis is often the result of using vaginal deodorants, cleansers, and douches, researchers don’t know the exact cause. However, these things are known to upset your pH, making them possible infection causes. Other sources can include:

  • Having intercourse without a condom
  • Having multiple partners
  • Sharing sex toys
  • Wiping with toilet paper from back to front
  • Touching your vagina with fingers that have been near your anus
  • Sexually active females tend to experience bacterial vaginosis more than those who aren’t sexually active. 

It is important to know that getting BV from a toilet seat, clothes, bedding, or swimming pools is not possible. 

Signs And Symptoms of BV

Signs of bacterial vaginosis aren’t always present. Females can have BV and not know it because they don’t have any symptoms. If you do have bacterial vaginosis symptoms, you may experience: 

  • Thin vaginal discharge that is white or gray 
  • Burning, itching, or pain in your vagina
  • A strong fishy odor that worsens with sex
  • Burning with urination
  • Itching around the outside of your vagina 

Some females only become aware they have BV when their doctor tests a sample of their vaginal fluid during a routine gynecologist appointment. 

Preventing Bacterial Vaginosis

You probably would prefer not to wonder, “do I have bacterial vaginosis?” and want to take steps to prevent BV. Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed method to prevent bacterial vaginosis, though you can reduce your risk with the following: 

  • Abstinence as bacterial vaginosis rarely affects women who are not sexually active
  • Limiting your sexual partners
  • Avoiding douches and vaginal deodorants
  • Use protection properly when having intercourse 
  • Don’t spend long periods in sweaty or wet clothes
  • Change menstrual products frequently
  • Try probiotic increasing supplements or foods 

Many of these prevention tips have to do with keeping your pH balanced. For example, staying in sweaty workout clothes can trap heat and moisture around your vagina. This warm moisture can encourage the growth of bacteria, leading to BV or other issues like yeast infections. Think of your vagina as a carefully balanced ecosystem where you need to be careful of what you put into and expose it to.  

What’s Next?

Around 1 in 3 females that have BV find that the condition resolves on its own without any medications. However, symptoms usually are a sign you need treatment. If you think you may have BV, you’ll likely want to visit your doctor. It’s a mild infection that can be treated with medicine. This is especially true because leaving bacterial vaginosis untreated can be risky. 

Treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis 

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Your doctor will inform you about the best option for bacterial vaginitis treatment. Usually, they will prescribe antibiotics like metronidazole (Flagyl) or clindamycin. Both of these medications are effective at stopping bacterial growth.

Unlike other antibiotics in pill form, these medications will be a gel or cream that you must vaginally insert. Occasionally, your doctor may prescribe oral pills, but pills can have more side effects. 

Unfortunately, there are no tried-and-true home treatments for BV. Some individuals prefer to balance their pH naturally, which may or may not work. If you want to try a home remedy, it’s essential to avoid over-cleansing the area or douching as this could worsen BV. Additionally, it’s wise to consult your doctor before inserting anything into your vagina or taking anything orally. 

Home Treatments for BV 

  • Probiotic supplements
  • Taking garlic orally
  • Boric acid suppositories 
  • Tea tree oil
  • Apple cider vinegar

Some of these remedies can irritate your vaginal area; therefore, you should not attempt them without speaking to your doctor first.

Medications often clear up BV within seven days, but 1 in 10 people treated may need another round of antibiotics.

Can BV Come Back? 

Unfortunately, once you have bacterial vaginosis, you’ll likely get it again. Even if you successfully treated it with medication your doctor prescribes. Around 8 out of 10 females experience repeat BV. 

What Happens If BV is Left Untreated? 

If bacterial vaginosis goes untreated, it can increase your risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as chlamydia, herpes, HIV, or gonorrhea. Additionally, it may put you at risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), affecting the fallopian tubes and uterus. 

It’s crucial for anyone pregnant and has BV to seek treatment as the condition can lead to preterm labor or other pregnancy complications if left untreated. 

What About My Partner? 

Male partners don’t require treatment for BV. However, if you have a female partner, they will likely have bacterial vaginosis and may require medication. Therefore, you should let your female partner(s) know as soon as possible so that they may seek treatment. 

Bacterial vaginosis is mild and sometimes presents with no symptoms. Although there is a chance it could go away on its own, the risks and complications of untreated BV aren’t worth it. If you suspect you have bacterial vaginosis, visit your doctor for a simple round of prescribed medications to clear up the issue quickly.

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