Bacterial vaginosis is a common bacterial infection occurring in the vagina. It usually occurs among women between the age of 15 and 44 years old. It is characterized by an increased vaginal discharge and vaginal malodor. This condition is formerly known as nonspecific vaginitis, but was named as bacterial vaginosis since the etiologic agents of the condition involve bacteria infection.
Causes for bacterial vaginosis
There are different good bacteria thriving along the vaginal areas to keep the balance between acidity and alkalinity to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. In the case of bacterial vaginosis, the balance between the alkalinity and acidity along the vaginal flora is disrupted. As a result, bad bacteria thrive to cause infection on the area, resulting to the condition of bacterial vaginosis. A common bacteria responsible for the infection is the Gardenerella Vaginalis which has been associated with Lactobacillus, Prevotella and anaerobes species.
There is no accurate evidence to support the fact that the infection is exclusively transmitted through sexual activity. It is still possible for bacterial vaginosis to occur among women who are not sexually active. It is also unclear as to how the changes in the vaginal flora occur, but the following are the risk factors that predispose women in developing the condition:
- Sexually active, especially having a new partner
- Using intrauterine device
- Use of scented soaps, antiseptic bath liquids and feminine wash
- Douching or cleaning out your vagina with water and other fluids.
- Using vaginal deodorant
- Having strong detergents used to wash underwear
Although bacterial vaginosis is not considered a sexually transmitted disease, it has been linked to the development of STDs. The observation presented by studies support such claim and they include the following:
- The incidence of bacterial vaginosis with an increase in the number of recent and lifetime sexual partners
- A new sexual partner can be related to the development of bacterial vaginosis
- Male partners of infected women may also be infected but are asymptomatic.
Although there is an indirect link between the condition and STDs and sexual relations, there are other factors that have been associated with bacterial vaginosis. They include douching, tub bathing (particularly with bubble bath), use of over-the-counter intravaginal hygiene products, swimming, and the use of an intrauterine device in the presence of sexually transmitted disease and high frequency of intercourse. The theory as to why they contribute to the development of bacterial vaginosis is that they disrupt the normal flora of the vagina.
Up to half of the cases of women having bacterial vaginosis do not display any symptom. Bacterial vaginosis may be found by chance when vaginal swabs are taken for some other reasons.
- Vaginal discharge is the major symptom of bacterial vaginosis. It is characterized by white-grey in color and often has a fishy smell. They may be more noticeable during sex. The discharge tends to be heaviest after sexual intercourse.
- Vaginal odor is the most common symptom. It is also the initial symptom that is observed and is often recognized during sexual intercourse.
- Vulvar irritation occurs, but is less common
- Discomfort during urination and during sexual intercourse (very rare)
The typical discharge and its characteristics increase the suspicion of having bacterial vaginosis. Diagnosis of the condition includes history taking, physical examination, vaginal examinations and microscopic examinations.
The history regarding the patient's symptoms and nature of discharge is necessary to differentiate the condition from other reproductive infections. Individuals with bacterial vaginosis may report an increase in the vaginal discharge and vaginal malodor. Some may also report valvular irritation in very rare cases and they may also report discomfort in urination and sexual intercourse.
The health care provider visually examines the external genitalia and performs an internal examination which involves the insertion of the physician's two fingers into the vagina while pressing the lower abdomen to check for the pelvic organs. Vaginal examination does not usually have any significance in diagnosing the inflammation for bacterial vaginosis.
Testing for the acid level of the vagina
The vaginal discharge produced by bacterial vaginosis has a typical pH level as compared to other discharges. The health care providers may suggest taking a sample of the discharge and test it with a pH strip. In some cases, the health care provider may add an alkaline solution to the discharge causing a characteristic fishy smell.
Taking a Swab
Microscopic examination may detect cells that are diagnostic for bacterial vaginosis, which are called clue cells. Bacterial flora or characteristics may be observed under the microscope to check what particular bacteria are predominant. Characteristic discharge may also be observed.
Complications of bacterial vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis may cause a number of complications that may lead to life-threatening conditions if left untreated. Pregnant women who have been infected with bacterial vaginosis have increased risk of developing complications of pregnancy. The infection is associated with early labor, miscarriage, having a low birth weight baby or developing an infection in the uterus after the delivery of the baby. Other adverse outcomes related to pregnancy that is linked with bacterial vaginosis are premature rupture of membranes and fetal membrane infections. Bacterial vaginosis also increases the risk following surgical procedures which may include termination of pregnancy and hysterectomy although antibiotics are usually given prior to these procedures. There is an increased risk for infection among individuals with pelvic inflammatory disease that would eventually cause infertility. It also predisposes a woman of being infected with HIV if she had sexual intercourse with an HIV infected person.
Herbal remedies for bacterial vaginosis
The mainstay treatment of bacterial vaginosis is antibiotics. Individuals with bacterial vaginosis are advised to stop douching, using bubble bath, taking any over-the-counter vaginal hygiene products, liquid soaps or body washes. It is recommended that women having the condition use hypoallergenic bar soaps or no soap at all.
Aside from the standard treatment of bacterial vaginosis, there are a number of complementary and alternative therapies (CAT) for the condition. Although some of them may not be proven effective, individuals with bacterial vaginosis usually resort to these therapies.
Herbal remedies are one of the CAT used in managing bacterial vaginosis. It is recommended that you contact your primary health care provider before starting a treatment using herbal medicines. Herbs are prepared as teas and known to be helpful in boosting the immune system of the body. Others use dried extracts, glycerites or tinctures and preparing them as an herbal tea.
It also helps to know that taking herbal remedies while you are on medication can cause an adverse reaction to the body, often leading to a life threatening situation. It is best to discuss your condition to your doctor prior to taking herbal remedies while on medication.
Herbal remedies that you can prepare as teas are the following:
- Green tea, which is known to be a powerful antioxidant, anticancer and immunity booster.
- Cat's claw is also common and known to have anticancer, antibacterial and antifungal effects, but have shown to interact with many medications
- Milk thistle for detoxification support which acts mainly in the liver.
- Garlic for antifungal and immune activity, but may cause blood thinning effects.
Bacterial vaginosis is a commonly taken for granted condition as you may fail to recognize the symptoms at its early stage. It may cause life-threatening conditions once the infection spreads throughout the body. The use of herbal remedies should be discussed with your doctor before resorting to it. Should you have any of the above symptoms, it is best to contact your doctor before starting any home treatment.
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