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Bacterial Vaginosis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Bacterial Vaginosis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Bacterial Vaginosis

What is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) stems from an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. It is the most common vaginal infection in women — even more so than yeast infections. Almost 30 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 become affected with BV (x). According to the CDC, over 20 million American women suffer from bacterial vaginosis each year. While this number makes it sound like developing BV is almost a given, there are plenty of steps you can take to reduce your chances.

One symptom of BV is a thin grey or white discharge and a sour, fishy smell. It’s different from a yeast infection, which produces a thick cottage cheese-like discharge. Another symptom of BV is itchiness in or around the vagina. Burning or painful urination, pelvic, or abdominal pain similar to the discomfort felt with a urinary tract infection may also occur. It may mean that the BV is traveling up and causing an infection in the pelvis.

Do you wonder when or if you need to see a doctor? If you have any of these symptoms, mainly if the symptoms include a foul odor or fever, make the call. You should also see a doctor if you have a new sexual partner or multiple partners, as the symptoms of BV are like sexually transmitted infections. See a doctor if you try self-treatment, but the symptoms do not go away. A large percentage of women who have BV report not having any symptoms. That’s 84 percent who have such mild symptoms that they do not understand they have an infection. Hence, they don’t receive treatment. (x,x)

Just because they are not aware of having BV doesn’t mean they shouldn’t seek treatment. If they go untreated, the condition makes the woman’s body vulnerable to other health issues affecting their immune system and reproductive organs. Included are different infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and potential problems during pregnancy and delivery. (x)

Relation to Sexually Transmitted Diseases

The medical field reports BV is not a sexually transmitted disease. It increases a woman’s risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV. Pregnant women with BV run the potential risk of going into premature labor and having a baby with low birth weight. Women with BV have an increased risk of infection following surgery to the reproductive system. (x)

For your peace of mind, below are clarifications and advice that concern vaginal infections. You’ll read about preventions and home treatments that help relieve bacterial vaginosis symptoms or even pain. Other answers include making adjustments to your diet and stress levels, inhibiting general vaginal problems like urinary tract infections or yeast infections from reoccurring.

Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms

Foul-Smelling Odor

It is usual for the vagina to have a slight odor. The scent will be unique to each woman and is a combination of the flora (the bacteria and yeast) that live there, glandular secretions, diet, hygiene, and even whether you wear cotton or synthetic underwear. Sweating can change the scent, and in the days following a menstrual period or sex, the vagina will also have a distinct smell (semen has a pH between 7.2 to 7.8, which impacts the vagina’s pH level). (x)

So, while there is no one vaginal odor as “normal,” it should not smell like rotting flesh or fishy. Yeast infections, most sexually transmitted infections, and urinary tract infections rarely have a smell. Still, the odor associated with BV is strong, sour, and fishy, and it is unlike the of other infections.

Note: while chlamydia and gonorrhea rarely have a foul odor, trichomoniasis may. Other potential causes are a forgotten tampon (this is more common than you’d think) and, more rarely, vaginal or cervical cancer.

Oddly Colored Discharge

The natural lubricant in the vagina is a complex mix of water, oils, ketones, acids, alcohols, and other substances. This lubricant is essential for vaginal health and comfort during sex. Occasional vagina discharge of this lubricant is normal. It is usually white and sometimes a pale yellow. The discharge is part of the vagina’s self-maintenance system, which cleans out germs and bacteria.

The consistency of the discharge will change throughout a woman’s cycle because of hormone fluctuations. During ovulation, when progesterone levels are high, the discharge is usually a creamy white. During leukorrhea or the luteal phase, estrogen levels are high, and the release may be watery or thick and white or brown. (x)

Unlike a yeast infection with a thick, cottage cheese-like discharge, BV often has a thin, grey, or white discharge. A release with an intense yellow color may show either bacterial vaginosis or a sexually transmitted infection. (x)

An irregular period may cause a brown discharge, but it may be a sign of cervical or uterine cancer if it keeps happening. Green means go — to the doctor. A green discharge shows a sexually transmitted infection. (x)

So while the consistency and color of the discharge may vary, symptoms such as itching, burning, irritation, or a foul odor are signs that all is not well, and it might be time to call the doctor.

Itching or Burning

Itching anywhere on the body is a sign of irritation, and vaginal itching is no different. By itself, genital itching is not usually a cause for concern. It may be a case of a reaction to a new detergent or soap. Perhaps your new underwear is rubbing you the wrong way, or maybe you did a marathon bike ride and irritated the area. But if itching continues even after making changes or accompanies other BV symptoms such as a watery, foul-smelling discharge, or painful urination, a visit to the doctor is in order.

Painful Urination

Burning or painful urination, or dysuria, is not normal, but it can have several causes besides bacterial vaginosis. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and sexually transmitted infections, including genital herpes, chlamydia, and gonorrhea, may cause. Urinary tract stones, irritation because of sexual intercourse, interstitial cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), side effects from various medications, treatments, or supplements may also be at fault. Bubble bath, scented soaps, spermicides, douches, and toilet paper are other culprits. Certain activities, such as cycling or horseback riding, can cause this condition. Finally, a urinary tract tumor is a rare but potential cause of pain or burning during urination. (x)

Painful urination by itself does not show bacterial vaginosis but in combination with other symptoms such as a strong, fishy odor and thin, watery white or grey discharge merit a trip to the doctor.

Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms

Causes of Bacterial Vaginosis

It is usual for bacteria, both ‘good’ (lactobacilli) and ‘bad’ (anaerobes), to live in the vagina, so what causes bacterial vaginosis? A healthy pH level for the vagina is 3.8-4.5, which is acidic, but the bacteria which cause BV prefer a higher level of 6-7 (x). It’s different from yeast, which favors a drop in the pHs levels. So anything that raises pH levels in the vagina can increase the risk of an overgrowth of bacteria. It includes douching, perfumes in laundry detergent, soaps, and feminine sprays or merely being pregnant.

Smoking also raises the chance of developing BV, as do sexually transmitted diseases, so a higher number of sexual partners also increases the risk. Sexual intercourse can change the makeup of the bacteria and yeast found in the vagina and pH levels, and it is this combination that can cause an overgrowth of bacteria. While sex is a common cause of BV, it is essential to note that you need not be sexually active to have BV.

For example, douching is unnecessary and can negatively alter the balance of bacteria in the vagina. It also holds for feminine sprays. Unscented pads and tampons are ideal. Be sure to change them frequently.

Diagnosing and Conventional Treatment

If you feel you have symptoms and visit your medical doctor for diagnosis and treatment, they will ask about your symptoms, as described above. They may perform a vaginal swab, urine test, or blood test, or only go by your symptoms. 

Some medical practitioners administer an amine whiff test, test discharge, or inspect the discharge using a microscope. A pH test of the discharge may identify the acidic range. If it is low, it’s possible of an infection. If the whiff test works, then it means the possibility of Gardnerella overgrowth is the reason for the condition. Gardnerella typically causes the “fishy” odor. Most doctors know the importance of detecting which vaginal infection you have for treating it properly. 

When diagnosed, the doctors treat BV with: 

  • Antibiotics like metronidazole and clindamycin as part of creams or by mouth. 
  • The topical prescription or over-the-counter creams and gels that you apply to the vagina reduces bacteria.
  • Suppository inserted into the vagina recommended as over the counter or as a prescription.
  • Antifungal tablets taken by the mouth.
  • Avoid irritants like shaving or soaps.
  • Avoid sexual intercourse for a certain amount of time.

Bacterial Vaginosis Remedies, Supplements, and Natural Treatments

  1. Avoid Severe Soaps and Products Near Your Genitals

Washing your vagina with ordinary soaps that are alkaline worsens the irritation, increases vaginal discharge, and pH imbalances in the microflora (microorganisms and collective bacteria.)

Try to avoid feminine deodorant sprays, dyed products, and perfume around the vagina, like scented pads and tampons or lubricants. Particularly inside the area if you have any irritation. Medical experts and dermatologists recommend that you give the genital area a good rest for as many days as possible—avoid the use of soap altogether. (x) Use only warm water to cleanse your vagina and use a mild laundry detergent. Especially, do not use any perfume detergents or strong detergents, or other harsh chemicals to wash your underwear as it rubs off on to the skin, irritating. Vaginas are self-cleaning from the inside. To stop infection or irritation, washout inside your vagina once a day with an unscented castle or glycerin soap. (x)

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2. Bathing Treatments

  • Some women find relief from bacterial vaginosis or yeast infection in the shower by using the following home and natural remedies. Be aware of your body, and if you notice the condition becomes worse, talk about it with your doctor:
  • Using a cotton pad, apply a combination of witch hazel, water, and 2 -3 drops of tree tea oil. Gently apply it to the infected area once a day. Studies show that tea tree oil holds antifungal components, acting like an antiseptic, getting rid of bacteria. (x)
  • Bathe in apple cider vinegar helps ward off the bacteria and toxins, causing the vaginal odor. It also restores the acidic property of the vaginal flora. (x)
  • Bathe in baking soda, half a cup in the bathwater, and soak for 15 to 20 minutes may resolve the condition. Dry off afterward, removing any moisture in the groin area, and wear comfortable cotton clothes.

3. Do Not Douche

One of the most significant risks is douching when you have a vaginal infection. It upsets the average balance of the bacteria in the vagina. The process doesn’t rid your body of the condition. It makes it worse as it removes the good bacteria that help protect your body.

4. Change Your Tampons More Often

Try changing your tampons more often and use organic or natural cotton tampons. It’s also essential that you change them more often. Three times a day, every six or eight hours works best. Use liners or pads overnight. That way, it limits the time of using the same tampon. Unscented tampons or pads are much better for your body as they don’t hold any harsh perfumes, dyes, and chemicals.

5. Abstain from Intercourse During an Infection, Afterward Use Condoms

Using a condom is a wise choice when you have a new sex partner. Limit the number of sexual partners is another smart and healthy choice. The more partners you have in a lifetime, the more chances you will get infections or an STD particularly, if the sex happens without protection, like a condom, even if you take birth control pills. The pill is not a protection against transferring bacteria or STDs.

6. Fortify Your Immune System to Inhibit Recurring Infections

Bacterial vaginosis can come back within three to 12 months, even if the infection received treatment. The likelihood is because the risks or causes need handling. Impaired immunity can lead to a higher chance of any condition or illness. Some tips for improving your immune system:

  • Take probiotics like lactobacillus to increase the number of good bacteria within the vagina and your entire body while it reinstates a balanced microflora. Eat fermented or cultured foods like kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, and kefir.
  • Eat healthy food, unprocessed food.
  • Scientific studies have found that the supplement of garlic tablets is an effective natural alternative for treating bacterial vaginosis. (x)
  • Focus on handling unhealthy body conditions like nutrient deficiencies, allergies, diabetes, leaking gut syndrome, and autoimmune disease.
  • Manage your stress.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Get enough exercise.
  • Research and find out if any of the medications you’re taking may cause reoccurring infections.
  • Try neem bark or neem oil as a natural antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. It helps promote balanced intestinal flora as it fights infection. The oil or bark may protect against STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes, including conditions by promoting antibodies to control bacteria. (x

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The Bottom Line

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is common among women caused by the aggressive growth of normal microbes—bacteria—within the vagina. Symptoms include irritation, sometimes burning and pain, usually a perceptible odor, and an unfamiliar discharge.

An overgrowth of bacteria causes bacterial vaginosis. It is a common infection caused by many things, including perfumes, tight clothes, and sex. While frequently prescribing antibiotics, natural remedies such as garlic, apple cider vinegar, and neem oil or bark are an equally effective treatment method.

The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. 

 
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