No one likes to think about what can go wrong with their genitals (cringe), but Bacterial Vaginosis is something every woman should be aware of. Let's talk about what it is, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you have it.
Bacterial Vaginosis is one of the most common things that can go wrong with a lady's genitals, yet it doesn't get talked about very frequently. We even left it out of our guide to female genitals. (Thanks to some savvy commenters for noticing!) As the name implies, Bacterial Vaginosis is a bacterial infection that can occur in the vagina. Bacteria are roughly classified as either "good" and "bad" strains. We all have a decent amount of "bad" bacteria living in our system at any given time, but the "good" bacteria is able to keep the "bad" stuff at bay. The vagina does an incredible job of maintaining this delicate balance of healthy bacteria, but there are several strains of bacteria that can lead to a case of Bacterial Vaginosis. BV is usually a mild infection that can clear up on it's own in just a few days, but it can worsen in some cases.
If You Have A Vagina, You Can Get BV
The risk factors of developing Bacterial Vaginosis are pretty broad. Basically, if you ever have penetrative intercourse, you're susceptible (though it is possible to get Bacterial Vaginosis even without having intercourse). The more partners you have, the higher your chances. Doctors don't fully understand how bacterial transmission works between two people having sex, so it's not quite clear how intercourse leads to BV. It's worth noting that BV's relationship with intercourse is so unclear that it's not currently classified as a Sexually Transmitted Infection.
Other risk factors for Bacterial Vaginosis include smoking and having an IUD. Taking antibiotics can also lead to a case of Bacterial Vaginosis. Antibiotics kill off the "bad" bacteria making you sick, but can also kill off the "healthy" bacteria working so hard to keep your genitals healthy. The best preventative measure you can take against BV is to avoid douching. Our society has done a terrific job at making women believe their genitals are dirty and in need of cleaning. But your vagina does an excellent job of keeping itself clean, and douching only serves to kill off the healthy bacteria.
You Can Have BV and Never Even Know
Roughly half of all women who have Bacterial Vaginosis don't have any symptoms, so you can have an infection without realising it. The main symptom of Bacterial Vaginosis is typically a strange odor and discharge from the vagina. Since women have been socialised to be self-conscious about their typical odor and discharge (remember, regular discharge is completely normal), what you want to look for is a sudden change in what you're used to. Some women note that their discharge takes on a "fishy" odor, or darkens in colour. These symptoms tend to be more noticeable after penetrative intercourse.
What You Should Do if You're Worried You Have BV
If you have symptoms or a nagging feeling that something is amiss, a trip to the OB/GYN is in order. Your doctor will perform an exam, and take a sample of your discharge. They will examine the sample under a microscope for evidence of Bacterial Vaginosis, and to rule out a yeast infection or an STI. They will check your vaginal pH level. Your doctor may also perform the embarrassingly-named "whiff test." This test involves placing a drop of potassium hydroxide on your sample, and checking for a "fishy" smell.
You'll most likely be given a prescription for oral antibiotics or an antibiotic suppository, gel, or cream. Ironically, antibiotics may have been the reason why you contracted Bacterial Vaginosis in the first place. Continuing the irony, your antibiotic treatment can cause you to develop a yeast infection. Oh the joys of modern medicine! Make sure to take yogurt or probiotics while you're taking your antibiotics, to pump more good bacteria into your body. You can also ask your doc for a "just in case" prescription for Diflucan, if you're susceptible to yeast infections. Most women will experience a recurrence of BV, so keep checking yourself for symptoms for the next few months.
While Bacterial Vaginosis can be pretty harmless in most cases, it can cause complications if left untreated. Don't put off a trip to the doctor. In very rare cases, BV has been correlated with miscarriages and early deliveries in pregnant women, and having BV can also make you more susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted infections. The odds are highly likely that your run-in with Bacterial Vaginosis won't cause any issues, but it's better to be on the safe side.