Women's Health Matters

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Bacterial Vaginosis

What is it?
A healthy vagina contains many different types of bacteria. The presence of each type of bacteria helps keep other bacteria in check. Sometimes some of the bacteria take over or 'overgrow.' This is called bacterial vaginosis. This is a very common condition and it is not thought to be sexually-transmitted.

What are the symptoms?
Often there are none. However, bacterial vaginosis sometimes causes a grey-white watery discharge that has a mild 'fishy' odour.

How is it diagnosed?
A swab will be used to take a sample from the wall of the vagina. In a laboratory, the bacteria can be seen through a microscope.

Are there any complications?
Bacterial vaginosis does not usually cause any complications. However, it may be linked to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) especially if you have an IUD or after an abortion.

How is it treated?
If it doesn't have any symptoms, it doesn't need to be treated. If you have symptoms, the antibacterial metronidazole may be used to control the infection.

Talk to your doctor about whether you should use the drug if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Metronidazole should never be combined with alcohol because it can cause serious side effects. Don't drink for 48 hours after taking the drug.

Some women use 5cc vinegar or 5cc lemon juice in 1 litre of water as a douche to prevent or control bacterial vaginosis. Lactobacilli capsules inserted into the vagina every day for a week may also help. These capsules can be found in the vitamin or health food section.

For chronic bacterial vaginosis (more than three episodes per year) cream can be prescribed by a physician.

Should my partner be checked or treated?
Bacterial vaginosis is not usually sexually transmitted, so your partner doesn't need to be checked or treated unless you get this infection repeatedly. If a woman has a female partner, both need to be treated.

How can I protect myself from bacterial vaginosis?
Approximately one-third of women have B.V. so you cannot "protect" against it. It is treated only if it bothers you or if you have an IUD or an abortion. Douches and other feminine hygiene products can disturb the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina and provide a favorable environment for B.V.

 

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Infections

Bacterial Vaginosis

Chlamydia

Crabs (Pubic Lice)

Gonorrhea

Hepatitis

Herpes

HIV/AIDS

Human Papilloma Virus

Molluscum contagiosum

Syphilis

Trichomonas

Yeast infection

  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital