Bacterial vaginosis facts
- Bacterial vaginosis is an abnormal vaginal condition that is characterized by vaginal discharge and results from an overgrowth of atypical bacteria in the vagina.
- Bacterial vaginosis is not dangerous, but it can cause disturbing symptoms.
- Most women do not experience symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, but when they do they are:
- vaginal discharge, and
- vaginal odor.
- In diagnosing bacterial vaginosis, it is important to exclude other serious infections, such as the STDs gonorrhea and Chlamydia.
- Treatment options for bacterial vaginosis include prescription oral antibiotics and vaginal gels.
- Serious complications of bacterial vaginosis can occur during pregnancy, and recurrence is possible even after successful treatment.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal condition that can produce vaginal discharge and results from an overgrowth of certain kinds of bacteria in the vagina. In the past, the condition was called Gardnerella vaginitis, after the bacteria that were thought to cause the condition. However, the newer name, bacterial vaginosis, reflects the fact that there are a number of species of bacteria that naturally live in the vaginal area and may grow to excess. The Gardnerella organism is not the sole culprit causing the symptoms. When these multiple species of bacteria that normally reside in the vagina become unbalanced, a woman can have a vaginal discharge with a foul odor.
Bacterial vaginosis is not dangerous, but it can cause disturbing symptoms. Any woman with an unusual discharge should be evaluated so that more serious infections such as Chlamydia and gonorrhea, can be excluded. Symptoms may also mimic those found in yeast infections of the vagina and trichomoniasis (a sexually-transmitted disease or STD), and these conditions must also be excluded in women with vaginal symptoms.
Bacterial vaginosis is a common condition. It is the most common vaginal complaint in women of child bearing age. Studies have shown that approximately 29% of women in the U.S. are affected. Bacterial vaginosis is found in about 25% of pregnant women in the U.S. and approximately 60% of women who have a sexually-transmitted disease (STD).
What is causes bacterial vaginosis?
Researchers have had difficulty determining exactly what causes bacterial vaginosis. At present, it seems to be that a combination of multiple bacteria must be present together for the problem to develop. Bacterial vaginosis typically features a reduction in the number of the normal hydrogen peroxide-producing lactobacilli in the vagina. Simultaneously, there is an increase in concentration of other types of bacteria, especially anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that grow in the absence of oxygen). As a result, the diagnosis and treatment are not as simple as identifying and eradicating a single type of bacteria. Why the bacteria combine to cause the infection is unknown.
Certain factors have been identified that increase the chances of developing bacterial vaginosis. These include:
- multiple or new sexual partners,
- IUDs (intrauterine devices) for birth control,
- recent antibiotic use,
- vaginal douching, and
- cigarette smoking.
However, the role of sexual activity in the development of the condition is not fully understood, and although most experts believe that bacterial vaginosis does not occur in women who have not had sexual intercourse, others feel that the condition can still develop in women who have not had sexual intercourse.