The female reproductive organs are highly sensitive and susceptible to infections. Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is one of the most common infections that affect the vagina and it is prevalent in women of reproductive age though others can come across the infection too. Though the infection is not a rare condition, it can have far reaching impact on female fertility and needs to be managed in time. Here is all you need to know about BV:

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis refers to the infection and resultant inflammation of the vagina which is the result of overgrowth of bacterial therein. By nature, there are good as well as bad bacteria found in the vagina and a balance between the two is essential for the vaginal health. When the bad bacteria multiply due to certain reasons, this balance is disturbed, causing infectious BV.

It is to be noted that BV is not caused by lack of hygiene but there are several other possible reasons of the infection:

  • BV can be a sexually transmitted infection, occurring commonly in women with multiple sexual partners; those with a new sexual partner also come in the high risk category
  • The prevalence of BV is higher in women who have had sexually transmitted infections (STIs) before
  • Douching and use of bubble baths is another possible cause of BV
  • Women who use an Intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception are likely to fall prey to the infection
  • Smokers are also at high risk

Symptoms and diagnosis of BV

Vaginal discharge is the most common symptom of the condition. It is usually white or grey in color and has a fishy odor, which is noticeable during sex. At the same time, vaginal discharge is not always caused by BV; various other kinds of infections such as thrush and yeast infection can be the reason. Vaginal itching and pain/burning sensation during urination are the other symptoms of BV.

Typically, BV is suspected when a woman has a foul smelling, whitish-grey vaginal discharge. The gynecologist recommends a few diagnostic tests to confirm the same; testing is particularly important in case of pregnant women. The pH of the vaginal discharge is tested to detect bacterial overgrowth, which is characterized by increase in pH level. Another diagnostic test is performed by taking a swab of the vaginal discharge and testing in under the microscope to check out the bacteria in it.

Risk factors and complications related to BV

BV is a sexually transmitted infection, which may be carried from an infected sex partner to a healthy woman. Women who have multiple sex partners are at high risk of BV and so are the ones with a new sex partner. In some cases, it is not carried sexually; for instance, douching can heighten the risk by disrupting the bacterial balance of the vagina.

The complications related to BV can take serious form if not treated in time. Here are some of the complications that a patient can come across:

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): As the name suggests, PID refers to the inflammation of the major reproductive organs such as the uterus, fallopian tubes and sometimes, ovaries. Women suffering from BV may come across the condition, which is one of the most prevalent causes of female infertility and tubal pregnancy.

Sexually transmitted infections: BV elevates the risk of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, gonorrhea, Chlamydia and herpes simplex virus.

Pregnancy related complications: Pregnancy related complications such as miscarriage, premature labor, low birth weight and premature rupture of membranes are common in women with BV.

Postsurgical infections: Another common risk related to BV is that of post surgical infections following reproductive surgeries such as dilation and curettage and hysterectomy

Treatment and Prevention of BV

BV is easy to diagnose and in many cases, easy to treat. In fact, no treatment is an option for some, with doctors recommending the infection to be left to resolve on its own. However, it is essential to seek treatment for the infection in case of pregnant women or those planning pregnancy, because it can cause serious infection of the uterus and major complications like premature delivery. A simple round of antibiotics is enough for the treatment and it may be given orally or topically, with an antibiotic cream or ointment inserted in the vagina.

The risk of BV can be curbed by practicing safe sex, such as using condoms and having a single sex partner. Women should avoid douching so that the vaginal balance is maintained. Similarly, good hygiene is important but washing the vagina repeatedly can actually cause bacterial imbalance; women should rather keep the vaginal area clean and dry by wiping in the proper manner (front to back) after urination. Another preventive measure for BV is to wear loose fitted cotton innerwear for ensuring good air flow in the area.

Recurrent infection should be taken seriously and medical help should be sought because it can compromise with the long term reproductive health of a woman and cause consequences as dire as female infertility.

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