Bacterial vaginosis is a fairly common condition that can affect women of any age. Read on to learn the answers to frequently asked questions.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is a health condition occurs when there’s an abundance of a certain type of bacteria in the vagina. This abundance throws off the normally healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina and can lead to symptoms like:
- Vaginal itching
- A white or gray vaginal discharge
- A strong vaginal odor that is likely fishy-smelling
- Itching, pain, or burning in the vagina
- Itching on the outside of the vagina
- Burning sensations during urination
What causes bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is most common among women who are of reproductive age, typically between the ages of 15 and 44. The condition develops when the number of ‘bad’ bacteria (also known as anaerobic bacteria) in the vagina outnumbers the ‘good’ bacteria (more specifically known as lactobacilli).
According to the Mayo Clinic and The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, risk factors for developing bacterial vaginosis include:
- Being sexually active
- Douching, which can upset the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina
- Having multiple sex partners
- Having a new sex partner
- A vaginal environment that doesn’t produce enough lactobacilli bacteria
- Pregnancy—somewhere around 25% of pregnant women get bacterial vaginosis due to hormonal changes
- Being African American—Bacterial vaginosis is twice as common among African-American women as it is in white women.
Is bacterial vaginosis preventable?
Your best bet for preventing bacterial vaginosis is to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in your vagina. To do so, you’ll want to avoid douching and stick to non-scented soaps, tampons, and pads. Limiting your number of sexual partners may be another way to lower your risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Do any other health risks accompany bacterial vaginosis?
You may have heard that bacterial vaginosis can increase your risk of getting STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or HIV, and this is true. Additionally, if you have bacterial vaginosis and are HIV positive, there’s also an increased risk of passing HIV to your sexual partner.
Among pregnant women, bacterial vaginosis carries additional risks such as increasing the likelihood that you will deliver your baby early or deliver a low-birth-weight baby.
Do I need to see a doctor if I think I have bacterial vaginosis?
It’s a good idea to see an ObGyn provider if you begin to experience abnormal vaginal discharge that’s accompanied by an odor or a fever. Another reason to see a doctor is if you’ve tried to take over-the-counter yeast infection medications (the two conditions can present similarly) that prove ineffective.
Seeing an ObGyn provider is important because they can prescribe antibiotics to treat the condition. If you are a woman with a female sex partner, she may need treatment as well.
If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Women’s Health Arizona. As Arizona’s largest ObGyn group, we’re trained and solely dedicated to delivering the best ObGyn experience in convenient and comfortable settings around Phoenix.