Bacterial Vaginosis - Symptoms

Bacterial Vaginosis - Symptoms

Many women will never know that they have had a bout of bacterial vaginosis because they are asymptomatic (i.e., having no symptoms). Others are cursed with a uniquely fishy odour, also known as the “bacterial vaginosis smell”. Here are the main symptoms of bacterial vaginosis:

  • “fishy” vaginal odour
  • increased vaginal discharge 
  • light grey, green, or white vaginal discharge
  • intensified odour after sex or during your period

Other more unpleasant symptoms may indicate that you have bacterial vaginitis, a related condition that causes inflammation and pain that is also caused by an overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria. Here are the common symptoms of bacterial vaginitis:

  • vaginal itching
  • burning sensation when urinating
  • spotting

Bacterial vaginosis and bleeding are not commonly found together. If you do experience bleeding outside of your period, or during sex, it could be the sign of something more serious. Don’t suffer in silence, consult your doctor or gynecologist for help.

Recurrent bacterial vaginosis

A healthy vaginal microbiome is dominated by Lactobacillus, probiotic bacteria that keep the pH level balanced. They make lactic acid, providing an acidic environment that deters invaders, like opportunistic bacteria, from growing out of control.

However, some factors can significantly weaken your vaginal microbiome, making you more susceptible to recurring bacterial vaginosis. These include antibiotics, douching, unprotected sex, and multiple sex partners.

Recurrent bacterial vaginosis in pregnancy is also very common. This may be influenced by the fluctuations in hormone levels as the fetus develops and the body prepares for birth. If you have chronic bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy, consult your doctor about treatment.

[FACT] Three or more proven episodes of bacterial vaginosis in 12 months is considered recurrent.

What causes bacterial vaginosis?

A healthy female vaginal microbiome is acidic (pH 3.8–4.5) thanks to a variety of Lactobacillus species: L. crispatus, L. gasseri, L. iners, and L. jensenii. These bacteria produce lactic acid that keeps invaders and opportunistic bacteria in check.

In bacterial vaginosis, there is significantly less Lactobacillus and an overgrowth of other microbes, which upsets the natural balance of the vaginal microbiome.  Common bacteria identified in bacterial vaginosis include:

  • Gardnerella vaginalis
  • Mycoplasma hominis
  • Peptostreptococcus
  • Prevotella spp
  • Mobiluncus spp

Studies primarily indicate that exposing the delicate vaginal environment to external products increases the risk of Bacterial Vaginosis, such as semen and perfumed soaps. However, other less obvious factors come into play too, like diet, antibiotic treatment, and smoking. Common risk factors for bacterial vaginosis include:

  • Being sexually active
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Douching
  • Partner with an uncircumcised penis
  • Smoking
  • Intrauterine contraceptives
  • Antibiotic treatment
  • Semen
  • Diet
  • Menstruation
  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Pregnancy
  • African ethnicity
  • Using perfumed products in or around the vagina

Studies show that bacterial vaginosis is most common in women of African
and Hispanic descent, and least common in Western European and Asian women. This may be, in part, linked to the large variety of gene variants associated with bacterial vaginosis.

Can you have sex with bacterial vaginosis?

Sex with bacterial vaginosis may worsen the symptoms and be painful.

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