Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Some good bacteria and some harmful bacteria grow normally in the vagina, just as they live on the surface of our skin. Some women, however, have a disorder that causes imbalances of these bacteria. Overgrowth of certain types of harmful microorganisms may cause BV. When this occurs, the effects may involve abnormal discharge, odor, pain, itching, or burning.
How do women get BV?
Some activities and behaviors, such as multiple sexual partners, a new sexual partner, and douching, can upset the normal environment of the vagina. Women who never had sexual intercourse may also acquire BV. Women do not get BV from toilet seats, bedding, swimming pools, or touching objects around them.
What are the signs and symptoms of BV?
Women with BV may have an abnormal discharge with an unpleasant odor, especially after intercourse. The discharge can be gray or white. Infected women may have intense itching outside the vagina or burning when urinating.
How is BV diagnosed?
Your physician collects a sample of your vaginal discharge and sends it to his/her supporting pathology laboratory. The laboratory then conducts tests to identify which bacteria are causing your symptoms. These tests can identify infections with multiple organisms. Ninety-five percent of the BV cases are caused by Gardnerella vaginalis, Candida albicans, and Trichomonas vaginalis.
What are the complications of BV?
Some women are more susceptible to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), if exposed, and have higher chances of developing infections after a hysterectomy or abortion. Having BV while pregnant may increase the risk of a preterm delivery.
What will happen if the woman is pregnant?
Women with BV often have premature babies. The infection can travel to the uterus and fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which, in turn, can result in infertility or ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the egg grows outside of the uterus, possibly leading to rupture of the fallopian tubes and bleeding.
How is BV treated?
If you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, see your physician immediately. BV is normally treated with antibiotics that can be administered to both pregnant and nonpregnant women, although in different dosages. Since BV can recur after treatment, it is important that you take all of the medication prescribed by your physician and follow up with him/her to determine if your infection has been cured.
How can BV be prevented?
BV is not completely understood by the medical profession. Some women are more prone to acquire it, and some may even have frequent infections. The general recommendations to maintain the natural balance in the vagina and to avoid BV are as follows:
• Be sexually abstinent.
• Limit your number of sexual partners.
• Do not douche.
• Use all of your prescribed medication, even if your symptoms disappear.
This information is intended for patient education and information only. It does not constitute advice, nor should it be taken to suggest or replace professional medical care from your physician. Your treatment options may vary, depending upon your medical history and current condition. Only your physician and you can determine your best treatment option.
For more information, contact one or more of the following:
• American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
• National Institutes of Health