Bacterial vaginosis

The vagina is home to countless microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi. Bacterial vaginosis occurs when the normal balance of the vaginal flora is disrupted, leading to an overgrowth of certain bacteria.

The infection often goes undetected, but when symptoms are present, they are characterized by foul-smelling discharge (fishy smell), especially noticeable after intercourse. While other symptoms such as itching, greyish-white vaginal discharge, and a burning sensation in the vagina may occur, they are more infrequent.

Causes and triggers

The exact cause of bacterial vaginosis is unknown, but certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing this infection, including:

  • Having multiple or new sex partners
  • Vaginal douching (involves using a solution to rinse the inside of the vagina) and scented vaginal products
  • Ethnicity (Black women are more at risk)
  • Smoking
  • Intrauterine devices (IUD)
  • Lack of vaginal lactobacilli
  • Sexually transmitted infections

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, bacterial vaginosis is treated with prescription antibiotics. Some antibiotics must be taken by mouth, while others are inserted into the vagina. It is very important to complete the prescribed course of treatment even if you are feeling better, in order to fully heal the infection.

Other over-the-counter products are available, but their effectiveness has not been proven. Speak to your health care provider for more information.

Women with recurrent bacterial vaginosis can take the following measures to help prevent reinfection:

  • To avoid disrupting the vaginal flora, do not use vaginal douches and scented vaginal products.
  • Opt for feminine hygiene products that are gentle, non-irritating and unscented.
  • Limit the number of sex partners and use a condom when having intercourse.
  • Do not smoke.

When should I see a medical professional?

  • If you have unusual vaginal discharge.
  • If you have abnormal bleeding.
  • If you are pregnant.
  • If you have a fever, or abdominal, pelvic or joint pain.
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