Most of us have experienced discharge at one time or another, a totally normal and expected result of the vagina’s amazing self-cleaning and regulating system! It’s your body’s way of ‘flushing out’ fluids, cells and bacteria – you can think of it as a kind of ‘house cleaning’ for your downstairs. But when vaginal discharge smells or looks a little different than usual, how can you tell if it’s regular discharge, or if it’s an infection like bacterial vaginosis? Scroll on, as Team Libra explores all things BV!
So, what IS bacterial vaginosis exactly?
Basically, BV is a type of bacterial vaginal infection that’s caused by an imbalance of the natural bacteria that’s present in the vagina. Normally, we have a healthy balance of what’s known as ‘good’ bacteria (like Lactobacillus), that outnumbers the ‘bad’ bacteria (like anaerobes) down there. But, when there’s an overgrowth of the ‘bad’ type of bacteria, it causes a hiccup in the healthy balance, which is what Bacterial Vaginosis is. It’s actually the most common type of vaginal infection, affecting around 10% of us at some point in life. The good news though is that it’s super detectable and treatable!
What are the main causes of BV?
While the EXACT cause of Bacterial Vaginosis is unclear, there are some risk-factors associated with the increased chance of experiencing BV, many of them sexually-related – but it’s important to note that BV is not an STI! With that in mind, research has found that it’s more common in those of us who:
- Are sexually active
- Engage in intercourse with new partners
- Have female sexual partners
- Have sex without a condom
- Practise vaginal douching, as this washes out ALL the bacteria in the vagina, allowing space for the ‘bad’ bacteria to grow. *Tip: Being the self-cleaning goddesses that vaginas are, douching isn’t necessary. It’s totally fine to use non-irritating soap for the outside, but there’s no need to wash the inside
- Use an intrauterine contraceptive device (aka an IUD)
How does it differ from regular discharge and what are the symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis?
Healthy vaginal discharge is usually clear or whitish in colour and has a pretty subtle odour that isn’t unpleasant or foul smelling. It can be related to changes in your menstrual cycle and isn’t typically a cause for concern!
On the flip side, discharge from Bacterial Vaginosis can be thin and grey, yellow or greenish in colour, with a ‘fishy’ kind of odour. The stronger smell of vaginal discharge caused by Bacterial Vaginosis may be more noticeable after sex or during menstruation.
It can also be coupled with symptoms like vaginal itching or burning during urination. That said, around half of the people who experience BV don’t notice any kind of major symptoms at all – kind of confusing, we know, but if you suspect something is a little off down there, your GP can clear up any concerns!
Is there a difference between bacterial vaginosis and thrush?
Yes! While both infections are quite common, thrush is fungal in nature, while BV is bacterial. There can be some crossover in symptoms, but generally thrush symptoms can present a little differently like a thick, white ‘cottage cheese’ type of discharge, redness and swelling around the opening of the vagina, pain and itching of the vulva, and burning during urination or sex. Since thrush symptoms and BV symptoms can be quite similar, it’s easy to confuse the two and treat the wrong thing. Over-the-counter thrush medication will be ineffective for treating Bacterial Vaginosis, so it’s important to head to your GP if you’re experiencing anything out of the norm.
How is bacterial vaginosis diagnosed and treated?
Your GP will diagnose you by discussing any symptoms with you, taking into account your medical history, sexual history, and whether you’ve experienced any vaginal infections or unexpected symptoms before. They’ll carry out a pelvic examination and take a quick vag-inal swab to send off to be tested for any abnormal, overgrowth of bacteria. Bacterial Vaginosis treatment usually consists of a course of antibiotics, either swallowed as a tab-let, or administered as a cream/gel inside the vagina. Even if the symptoms ease, you’ll need to complete the full course of antibiotics, as stopping treatment early can heighten the chances of the infection coming back. While you’re undergoing treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis, it’s also a great idea to wear Liners or Period Proof Briefs to keep yourself fresh from any discharge!
As BV is so common and easily treatable, it’s not normally a major reason for concern! And there are steps that you can take to reduce the risk of experiencing it, like minimising vaginal irritation by using gentle, unscented and non-irritating soaps, avoiding douching, and practising safe sexual practices, including using a condom during intercourse. If you’re ever in doubt that you might suffer from bacterial vaginosis, don’t hesitate to hit up your GP to cover any concerns and questions you might have.
Love, Libra x
Anything else? Asaleo Care makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional, medical or other health professional advice.