Understanding bacterial vaginosis

What is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis is an inflammation of the vagina due to an overgrowth of bacteria that upsets the normal balance. This is the most common type of vaginal infection in women who are between the ages of 15 and 45.

Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms

While many women have no signs or symptoms at all of bacterial vaginosis, you may experience:

  • Burning during urination
  • Foul-smelling vaginal odor, especially after intercourse
  • Vaginal itching
  • Thin vaginal discharge that is grayish white in color

Bacterial Vaginosis Causes

Lactobacilli is a bacteria that is normally found in your vagina that is considered the “good” bacteria. Anaerobes are the “bad” bacteria, and in a normally balanced vagina, lactobacilli will outnumber the anaerobes. However, sometimes the anaerobic bacteria becomes too numerous, which upsets the bacterial balance of your vaginal and results in bacterial vaginosis.

There are several things that can cause the bacteria in your vagina to become unbalanced. Having multiple sexual partners increases your risk for developing bacterial vaginosis. Also, bacterial vaginosis occurs more often in women who have a new sexual partner. Douching is the practice of rinsing out your vagina with a cleansing agent. Since your vagina is capable of self-cleaning, this is unnecessary and can also upset the natural balance of your vagina, resulting in bacterial vaginosis.

Bacterial Vaginsosis Treatments

Once you have been diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis, your doctor will likely prescribe one of the following medications:

  • Metronidazole: The brand name of this medication is known as Flagyl or Metrogel and it can be taken orally or applied topically inside your vagina. Avoid alcohol while taking this medication because this can cause stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Clindamycin: This is also known as Cleocin or Clindesse and it is a cream that is inserted into your vagina. One side effect of clindamycin is that it can weaken latex condoms for up to three days after treatment is complete.
  • Tinidazole: Also known as Tindamax, this is a medication that is taken orally. While taking tinidazole, you should also avoid alcohol, since it has the same side effects as metronidazole.

Bacterial vaginosis cannot spread from female partner to male partner; however, it is possible for the infection to spread to another female sexual partner. Because of this, female partners should both be tested and treated at the same time.

Pregnant women who experience the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis should be treated as soon as possible, as it can increase the risk of premature delivery and low birth weight.

Bacterial Vaginosis Prevention

It is common for bacterial vaginosis to recur within three to twelve months after treatment. An option to prevent this from occurring is taking extended-use metronidazole therapy. You can also look into lactobacillus colonization therapy, also known as probiotic therapy, which boosts the number of good bacteria in your vagina to help maintain the balance of bacteria in your vagina. This can be accomplished by eating certain types of foods, such as yogurt that contains high amounts of lactobacilli. 

Last Updated: August 26, 2015