Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is a common condition that affects women in their reproductive years. Here are five things you might not know about BV and what to do if you have it.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
Before we discuss what bacterial vaginosis is, it’s important to understand a bit about how your vagina works. The vaginal flora, or ecosystem, is home to many types of bacteria.
In general, there are healthy bacteria and unhealthy bacteria. In order for your vagina to stay balanced, there needs to be a good ratio of healthy and unhealthy bacteria (as well as yeast).
When that balance is upset and too many unhealthy bacteria are present in your vagina, you’re likely suffering from bacterial vaginosis or another condition that causes vaginal inflammation like trichomoniasis or candidiasis. Some women experience symptoms while others do not.
Causes and symptoms
Bacterial vaginosis can be caused by unprotected vaginal intercourse, but most women with bacterial vaginosis do not have a history of such contact. It’s thought that some women who use an intrauterine device (IUD) or other barrier methods of birth control are at higher risk for developing bacterial vaginosis.
The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include vaginal itching, an unpleasant odor and unusual discharge that is thin and grayish-white in color. In more severe cases, pain during urination and intercourse may occur. Women should see their doctor if they think they might have bacterial vaginosis.
A diagnosis can be made through a sample taken from the vagina during a pelvic exam or self-administered vaginal swab test kits from drug stores or online pharmacies.
How do you treat bacterial vaginosis?
Many women suffer from bacterial vaginosis for a variety of reasons. The infection itself is not treatable, but there are many bacterial vaginosis treatment pills out there that can help relieve symptoms and reduce irritation.
Talk to your doctor about which bacterial vaginosis treatment plan is right for you; remember, your doctor might recommend a combination of treatments.
How does bacterial vaginosis affect fertility?
One of bacterial vaginosis treatment’s biggest drawbacks is that it makes women more likely to have trouble getting pregnant. A study in Egypt, for example, found that there was a significantly lower rate of spontaneous pregnancy (4%) in women with bacterial vaginosis compared to women without it (13%).
But even if you’re not trying to get pregnant right now, being diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis could still be an important wake-up call. That’s because some studies show an increased risk of cervical cancer associated with having regular bacterial vaginosis infections.
Preventing recurrent episodes
A full course of metronidazole is prescribed for two weeks for bacterial vaginosis treatment. A course may be repeated if there is a recurrence of symptoms within three months after treatment.
It is important to abstain from sexual intercourse or use condoms until both partners have received treatment and their infection has cleared. This helps avoid reinfection by any other partner who may still harbor bacteria that could otherwise trigger an infection in both partners.
Natural treatment of bacterial vaginosis
There are several natural treatment options that can relieve symptoms and speed up recovery. Before trying any natural bacterial vaginosis treatment, be sure to discuss it with your doctor, who may suggest other treatments or suggest waiting until you’re in a less vulnerable stage of pregnancy.
Garlic: Garlic is a powerful antifungal agent with many uses for treating bacterial vaginosis. It reduces itching and burning and helps with healing when used in combination with topical solutions such as vinegar douches or garlic soaks.
Drink plenty of water: Drinking at least eight glasses of water every day is essential for avoiding bacterial vaginosis because it keeps things flowing freely down there and prevents dehydration, which can further aggravate symptoms like vaginal itching and burning.