An Introduction to Bacterial Vaginosis
BV results from an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina, and is one of the most common vaginal infections, along with yeast infections. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), it’s the most common vaginal infection among women ages 15-44.
It falls under the general umbrella of vaginitis or vaginosis, which are basically the infection or inflammation of the vagina.
You’ll know it’s this, as opposed to a yeast infection if your discharge has a strong, fishy odour instead of no smell as with a yeast infection. The good news is that a quick visit to a medical professional will get you the medicine you need to clear it up quickly and easily.
Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis
Around half of all people with BV actually show no symptoms. However, some of the most common symptoms among those that do show them include the following:
Symptom #1: Discharge
People with BV will often have discharge that is grayish or white. It’ll be thin, and not clumpy (that’s a sign of a yeast infection).
Symptom #2: Burning Feeling When you Pee
You may experience some discomfort when peeing if you have bacterial vaginosis.
Symptom #3: Smelly Odour
With this, you’ll often notice a strong, fishy smell. It will usually get stronger after you have sex.
What Can Increase my Changes of Getting Bacterial Vaginosis?
There are some factors that put you at a greater risk. They include the following:
- Sexual activity, especially new partners, or more than one of them, although it’s not considering to be a sexually transmitted infection. According to the CDC, the risk increases with the number of lifetime sexual partners someone has.
- Women who have sex with women are at greater risk
- Douching, or using things like vaginal soaps and bubble bath
- One study has linked IUDs with increased risk of BV, but it’s unclear what the link is
- Non-white women have higher rates of it than white women
- Diabetes, especially when blood sugar levels are not well managed
BV or Yeast Infection: What Do I Have?
Bacterial vaginosis is an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. It can be caused by a number of things including poor hygiene, douches, multiple sexual partners, and perfumed soaps. Only women get BV, but it’s thought that it can be passed by men onto their sexual partners.
Yeast Infection is also an overgrowth, but in this case, it’s Candida yeast. You’re especially susceptible to it following a course of antibiotics. Either men or women can get this infection.
The reason that they are difficult to differentiate is that they both can have vaginal discharge. However, it has a different quality.
Vaginal discharge with BV is grey-white and has a strong, fishy odour
Vaginal discharge with a yeast infection is thick, creamy-white and curd-like. It usually has no smell. There may also be itching, burning, pain or other discomfort.
How to Prevent it from Returning?
There are a number of things you can do (or not do!) to prevent this vaginal infection from returning and to maintain optimum vaginal health.
When you’re cleaning your vagina and the area around it, use just water. Even soap can throw off the delicate pH balance of your vagina and lead to more infections.
That said, be sure to shower regularly and keep things clean down there.
Douching has been shown to increase vaginal infections like BV and yeast infections. Also, don’t consider using douche to try to self-treat bacterial vaginosis—it won’t help you!
Proper Bathroom Hygiene
When you poop, be sure to wipe from front to back and not the other way around.
Limit the Number of Sexual Partners you Have
Increasing the number of partners you have leads to an increase in STI’s and other infections. In addition, when you do have sex, use a condom. In short, do whatever you can to maintain good sexual health!
That said, you can also get bacterial vaginosis if you’re not sexually active.
Change Tampons, Pads or a Menstrual Cup Often Enough
If you use pads or tampons, be sure to change them frequently enough (8 hours max). This will keep the levels of bacteria growing on them to a minimum.
If you use a menstrual cup, remove it and clean it well every 12 hours. Be sure to wash off any soap residue well to prevent any problems.
With any of these things, wash your hands well before handling them.
Air It Out
The harmful bacteria in your vagina like to grow in warm, moist environments. This means that you should avoid hot tubs, very hot baths, tight fitting clothes, and keeping on wet or sweaty swimsuits or workout gear longer than necessary.
For underwear, consider using exclusively cotton instead of things like silk, polyester, etc. This is because cotton breathes well and allows for some airflow in the area around your vagina.
Use Antibiotics Sparingly
Antibiotics do a great job at killing bacteria in your body, both good and bad. After a course of treatment, you can often be susceptible to things like bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection. Use them only when absolutely necessary.
Make Sure you Control Diabetes Well
People with diabetes are at a higher risk of vaginal infections. This is especially true if blood sugar levels are not well managed because both bacteria and yeast love this kind of environment.
How to Prevent BV Naturally?
So you want to know how to get rid of BV without antibiotics?
There are a number of things you can do prevent vaginal infections without drugs. Some of them include the following:
Lactobacillus and Probiotics
One theory is that lactobacillus colonization therapy can help to prevent further infections. You can do this by eating certain kinds of yogurt, or other foods that contain lactobacilli, mainly fermented things.
Some research has been done, but more is needed and results are uncertain. The theory behind this is that you want to cultivate the good bacteria in your vagina so that the bad bacteria (and yeast) can’t take over.
Probiotics is another area for potential study. After you take antibiotics for BV, all the bacteria will be wiped out. Cultivate the good stuff to prevent further infections.
Drink Lots of Water
Our bodies are generally happier when we drink enough water. Your vagina is no exception.
Some research shows that garlic is a natural antibacterial. You can take a supplement or add it to your diet in order to prevent vaginal infections.
Important note: Do NOT insert garlic directly into your vagina because it’ll burn your sensitive skin down there.
Nutrition and Bacterial Vaginosis
According to one study, severe cases were strongly associated with total fat intake, especially saturated and monounsaturated fat.
However, cases were inversely related to increase intake of folate, Vitamin A, and calcium.
So, consider decreasing your fat intake, and boning up on legumes, eggs, leafy greens, low-fat dairy products, and other fruits and veggies.
According to this same study, what is not associated with it is total caloric intake.
Learn more about BV Home Remedies
How to Deal With Bacterial Vaginosis?
There are a few things you can do to deal with your case of BV.
Check in With your Doctor
The first thing you should do if you suspect that you have this infection is to make an appointment with your family doctor or gynaecologist. They’ll do an examination, as well as perhaps take a swab to examine under a microscope.
This sample can also rule out some STI’s that can have similar symptoms such as smelly discharge.
Your health care provider will most often prescribe an antibiotic, either orally or via a cream or gel you insert into your vagina. Be sure to finish the full course of antibiotics to prevent reinfection.
Some of the drugs your doctor may prescribe you include the following:
- Metronidazole (Flagyl, Metrogel-Vaginal, others)
- Clindamycin (Cleocin, Clindesse, others)
- Tinidazole (Tindamax)
Most courses run for 7 days, but you may start to notice an improvement in 2-3 days. Keep taking the meds please!
BV Treatment Over the Counter?
With yeast infections, there are a number of options for treatment over the counter at your local pharmacy. What about with bacterial vaginosis? Is it the same?
Unfortunately, it isn’t really the same with BV, and you will most likely need to take a trip to your doctor for prescription antibiotics. The reason behind this is that BV and yeast infections are often mistaken for each other, and should be diagnosed by a doctor.
Taking an anti-fungal (yeast infection treatment) when you actually have BV will make it worse. Or, taking antibiotics when you have BV will lead to an increase in antibiotic resistance, and will also wipe out a lot of the good bacteria in your body, and possibly lead to a yeast infection.
The only real option for BV treatment over the counter? Try some of the home remedies like coconut oil, or apple cider vinegar.
Women with Female Partners
If you’re a women who has sex with other women, it’s recommended that both of you get treatment, even if the other person doesn’t show symptoms. Check with your doctor to be sure.
There are also some additional things you can to do prevent spreading it to each other. These precautions include:
- Use a dental dam when having oral sex
- Cover sex toys with condoms before using them, particularly if you have multiple sex partners. If you don’t use condoms, be sure to clean your sex toys well between uses.
Do you Use an IUD?
If you use an IUD, but keep getting recurrent infections, talk to your doctor about using another form of birth control.
Do you use Tampons?
Here’s something you might not know, but many of the leading tampon brands contain trace amounts of toxic chemicals in them. They mostly come from the pesticides used to grow the cotton, as well as the chemicals from the manufacturing process (bleaching in particular).
Make the switch to organic tampons to reduce your exposure to this stuff and see if you experiencing a decreased amount of vaginal infections. Or, consider making the switch to pads (organic or cloth ones are best) or a menstrual cup.
This simple thing might clear up recurring yeast infections, or cases of BV.
Make Sure you Clean your Menstrual Cup Well
If you use a cup and get bacterial vaginosis, be sure that you’re cleaning it well enough. Use soap or a special wash every single time you take it out. Wash your hands well before handling it. Boil it in a pot of water on the stove for five minutes at the end of your period.
More details here: Learn How to Clean a Menstrual Cup.
Boric Acid for Bacterial Vaginosis
If you want to go the natural way for treating BV, then you’ll probably want to consider boric acid. It’s poisonous to ingest, so most women take it in suppository form inserted into their vaginas for 1-2 weeks.
Studies have shown similar results with boric acid as to antibiotics. However, more research is needed into the safety and effectiveness of this treatment.
Coconut Oil for BV: Will it Work?
Some natural health gurus advocate the use of coconut oil and essential oils like lavender, along with tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar on a tampon to cure bacterial vaginosis.
Does it work? There are no studies that show whether it does or not. We generally recommend checking in with your doctor first, and then working on preventing further infections.
Another part of the problem is that this vaginal infection can resemble some STIs. This makes it not an ideal condition to treat at home without medical advice.
Apple Cider Vinegar for BV: Should I Try It?
According to Medical News Today, one possible home remedy for BV is apple cider vinegar. The theory is that it can help to balance the pH in your vagina. You can rinse your vulva with a mixture of 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar and 1 cup of water twice per day.
Some people suggest an apple cider vinegar tampon the same solution as mentioned above.
Drinking apple cider vinegar mixed with water can also have the same effect.
However, it may make your vaginal infection worse if you don’t actually have bacterial vaginosis! Be careful with self-treatment for this kind of thing.
Hydrogen Peroxide for BV?
One small study in the 1990’s was done using a single vaginal wash of 3% hydrogen peroxide on women with recurrent BV. Of the 23 women in the study, symptoms cleared in 18 of the cases, remained unchanged in 2 cases, and 3 people still had vaginal discharge but no fishy odour was before.
There are also some people who recommend a peroxide tampon with the same solution.
The amine test for the presence of BV was negative in all the women, including those who thought that there was no change.
A similar study was done a few years later with excellent results, the same as you’d find with antibiotic treatment.
Check with your doctor to see if this might work for you.
Can Men Carry BV and is it Sexually Transmitted?
Men do not have vaginas, so cannot get BV. The penis doesn’t have the same balance of bacteria as the vagina does.
However, what is unclear is whether or not men can spread BV to their sexual partners. It’s for this reason that women with BV should avoid sexual contact with their male partners until their treatment is done.
If you’re male, and are getting similar symptoms to BV on your penis, they’re probably related to some other problem, most likely an STI. See your health care provider for treatment to avoid spreading the infection to your partners.
It does appear that women in sexual relationships with other women may be at a higher risk of passing Bacterial Vaginosis to each other through sexual contact.
Are there Risks to Not Treating Bacterial Vaginosis?
If left untreated, are there are complications that can result from this infection?
Pregnant Women and Bacterial Vaginosis
When pregnant, having BV can increase your risk of miscarriage, early delivery, low birth weight or uterine infection after you give birth. Therefore, pregnant women in particular should take care to maintain optimum vaginal health and check in with their doctor if anything appears to be abnormal.
With any pelvic procedure (abortion, hysterectomy, etc.) done when you have BV, you increase your chance of pelvic infection after.
When you’re exposed to an STI when you have BV, you’re more likely to become infected.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and Bacterial Vaginosis?
It’s a good question! PID is an infection of the female genital tract and can lead to some serious problems if left untreated including infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Does not treating one condition lead to the other one? Or, will untreated Bacterial Vaginosis lead to the more serious pelvic inflammatory disease.
According to research, an independent association between these two things is sparse. Also, a causal associated can not be established.
However, the CDC mentions in their fact sheet that if BV is left untreated, it can lead to PID, which in turn can lead to infertility.
It’s clear that more research is needed into it because of the conflicting information surrounding this important question.
Bacterial Vaginosis and Sexually Transmitted Infections
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having BV can increase your risk of getting other STI’s such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Herpes, HIV and Trichomoniasis. It’s not really clear why this happens and what exactly is the link between these two things.
This is one of the reasons why women should seek treatment for bacterial vaginosis from their health care provider, instead of just hoping it will get better with time.
Increased Risk of Post Surgical Infection
Women who have this condition may be more likely to develop some kind of infection after surgery related to their reproductive organs. For example, a hysterectomy or abortion. If you anticipate this kind of surgery in your near future, be sure to check in with your health care provider for treatment of any vaginal infections.
Have your Say!
Do you have any thoughts about bacterial vaginosis, or any tips for dealing with it? Leave a comment below and share your wisdom with us.