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Bacterial Vaginosis

What is it?

Bacterial Vaginosis is the name of a condition in women where the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is replaced by an overgrowth of certain bacteria. It is sometimes referred to as BV.

How common is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial Vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age in the United States. About 16 percent of pregnant women have bacterial vaginosis.

How do people get bacterial vaginosis?

The cause of bacterial vaginosis is not fully understood. Bacterial vaginosis is associated with an imbalance in the bacteria that are normally found in a woman's vagina. The vagina normally contains mostly "good" bacteria, and fewer "harmful" bacteria. Bacterial vaginosis develops when there is an increase in harmful bacteria.

Very little is known about the cause (or causes) of bacterial vaginosis. There are many unanswered questions about the role that harmful bacteria play in causing this condition. Any woman can get bacterial vaginosis. However, some activities or behaviors can upset the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina and put women at increased risk including:
  • Having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners
  • Douching
  • Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception
It is not clear what role sexual activity plays in the development of this condition. Women do not get bacterial vaginosis from toilet seats, bedding, swimming pools, or from touching objects around them. Women who have never had sexual intercourse rarely develop this condition.

What are the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis?

Although some women report no signs or symptoms at all, this condition is sometimes accompanied by the following:
  • White or grayish vaginal discharge that may be thin in consistency
  • A foul, or fishy, vaginal odor
  • Pain
  • Itching around the outside of the vagina
  • Burning sensation during urination
Bacterial Vaginosis is often first noticed after sexual intercourse.

What are the complications of bacterial vaginosis?

In most cases, bacterial vaginosis causes no complications but there are some serious risks including:
  • Increased susceptibility to HIV infection if exposed to the HIV virus.
  • Increases the chances that an HIV-infected woman can pass HIV to her sex partner.
  • Increases the possibility of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) following surgical procedures such as a hysterectomy or an abortion.
  • Increases the risk to pregnant women for some complications of pregnancy.
Bacterial vaginosis can increase a woman's susceptibility to other STDs, such as Chlamydia and gonorrhea.

What affect does this have on a pregnant woman and her baby?

Pregnant women with bacterial vaginosis are more likely to have babies who are born premature or with a lower birth weight (less than 5 pounds).

The bacteria that cause bacterial vaginosis can sometimes infect the uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes, the tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. This type of infection is referred to as PID or pelvic inflammatory disease.

PID can cause infertility or damage the fallopian tubes enough to increase the future risk of ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Ectopic pregnancy is a life-threatening condition in which a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube, which can rupture.

How is bacterial vaginosis diagnosed?

Your doctor must examine the vagina and perform laboratory tests on a sample of vaginal fluid to look for the bacteria associated with bacterial vaginosis.

What is the treatment for bacterial vaginosis?

Although bacterial vaginosis will sometimes clear up without treatment, all women with symptoms should be treated to avoid complications such as PID. Male sex partners generally do not need to be treated with one exception. Bacterial vaginosis may spread from one woman to another by male sex partners.

Treatment is especially important for women who are pregnant. All pregnant women who have ever had a premature delivery or low birth weight baby should be considered for examination for bacterial vaginosis, regardless of symptoms, and should be treated if they have it. All pregnant women who have the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis should be checked and treated.

To reduce their risk of developing PID, some physicians recommend that all women undergoing a hysterectomy or abortion be treated for bacterial vaginosis prior to the procedure, regardless of symptoms.

Bacterial vaginosis is treatable with prescription antibiotics. The two antibiotics most often recommended for treatment are metronidazole and clindamycin. Either can be used with non-pregnant or pregnant women, but the recommended dosages differ.

Bacterial vaginosis can recur after treatment.

How can bacterial vaginosis be prevented?

Not enough is known about Bacterial vaginosis to prevent it. However, it is known that bacterial vaginosis is associated with having a new sex partner or having multiple sex partners. It is seldom found in women who have never had intercourse.

The following basic prevention steps can help reduce the risk of upsetting the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina:
  • After using the toilet, always wipe from front to back. This helps prevent getting bacteria from your rectal area into your vagina.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes for long periods of time. (Leotards, pantyhose, swimming suits, or biking shorts)
  • Bathe or shower daily and pat your genital area dry.
  • Do not douche.
  • Stay healthy; eat well, get enough sleep, drink enough fluids.
  • Wear cotton underpants during the day and no underpants at night.
Products known to be contributing factors in vaginitis:
  • Laundry detergent
  • Fabric softener
  • Latex condoms
  • Latex diaphragms
  • Sperm-killing gels used for birth control
  • Feminine hygiene sprays
  • Colored or perfumed toilet paper
  • Colored or perfumed deodorant pads
  • Colored or perfumed tampons
  • Bubble bath
Sometimes you can eliminate a contributing cause just by avoiding the use of one of the above or changing products. However, making changes to birth control should be discussed with your doctor first.

Special note: When using the medicine prescribed for treatment of bacterial vaginosis, use it all, even if the signs and symptoms go away.

Bacterial Vaginosis Feedback

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This consumer advocate website is protected by copyright 2002-2007 Askdocweb, Inc. All Rights Reserved. This is a layman's report on Vaginosis and is not intended to replace discussions with a health care provider. Do not use the information on this forum as a substitute for your doctor's advice. Always consult your doctor before taking any drug and follow your doctor's directions. Source material: Food and Drug Administration, Medline, Physician's Desk Reference, and the largest community of people in the world, those who are concerned about side effects and healthcare.
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