More than 21 million women each year get bacterial vaginosis (BV). It is a vaginal inflammation caused by an imbalance of different bacteria typically found in the vagina. There are still a lot of stigmas that women face who are affected, especially if recurring. The facts are, any female can get BV, even those who aren’t sexually active. Additionally, BV isn’t the result of hygiene issues, though certain routines can increase your risk. Bacterial vaginosis shares symptoms with other conditions and, if left untreated, may cause other problems. Every woman should know how to recognize BV, and we have the basics to get you informed.

Symptoms and Causes

There is no age group protected from bacterial vaginosis, though it is most common in ages 15-44. Not every woman experiences symptoms, but for those that do, symptoms may consist of:

  • Vaginal discharge can be white (milky) or gray. It may also be foamy or watery and carry strong fish odor.
  • Burning during urination.
  • Vaginal irritation and itching around the outside of the vagina.

There are many different bacteria types naturally found in the vagina. BV occurs when there is an overgrowth of one bacteria. In a healthy vagina, the good bacteria (lactobacilli) outnumber “bad” ones (anaerobes). But if there are too many anaerobic bacteria, the natural balance in your vagina is thrown off, causing bacterial vaginosis.

Diagnosis and Treatment

BV shares symptoms with yeast infections and other conditions, so it’s essential to see your gynecologist if you are experiencing any symptoms. Bacterial vaginosis is diagnosed by taking a sample of the vaginal discharge and looking at it under the microscope. Once diagnosed, it is treated by prescription antibiotics. If you are sexually active, your male partner will not need to be treated. However, if your partner is female, she may need treatment as well. Not treating your BV can lead to increased susceptibility of contracting an STI, and low birth weight if pregnant.

Even with the proper completion of treatment, it is possible to get BV again. Remember that balance in your vagina? Well, anything you put into it or remove from it can upset that balance. Douching, and not using protection when sexually active are some ways to increase your risk. African American women are twice as likely to get BV, so they are more predisposed despite taking all the precautions.

There’s still work to do so we can gain a better understanding of bacterial vaginosis. When a new option is discovered, research studies and volunteers who participate in them, help determine which are safe and effective. Research studies may be an option if you have been diagnosed with or suspect you have bacterial vaginosis. To learn more about the opportunities currently enrolling for bacterial vaginosis here at Women’s Healthcare Research, call (858) 505-8672, or visit us here.