What is bacterial vaginosis and what causes it?
What are the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis?
Frustratingly, you can have bacterial vaginosis without any signs. Some symptoms of bacterial vaginosis to look out for include discharge that's watery and thin, grey or white in colour, and have a strong smell, often described as fishy.
What's the difference between bacterial vaginosis and thrush?
Many women mistake BV for thrush so it's important to understand the difference between the two for proper treatment. At its most basic, BV is bacterial and thrush is fungal. BV is caused by an imbalance of bacteria, thrush is caused by infection with a yeast called Candida.
Both can cause unusual discharge, however thrush is characterised by a thick, white consistency, that doesn't have a scent. Symptoms of thrush also often involve intense itching and burning whereas BV does not.
RELATED: 4 Signs You Might Have Thrush
Why can't the majority of women identify bacterial vaginosis?
"As with many topics relating to women’s health, vaginal health still tends to be taboo and stigmatised," Dr Ginni Mansberg told Women's Health. "Although we’re slowly starting to see a change."
"Most Australian women learn about periods and reproduction in school, they wouldn’t have much education around other conditions that effect their vagina such as BV, apart from going to their healthcare professional to be diagnosed – and we are finding that many women are too embarrassed by the symptoms to do even that."
Even more alarming, the research showed that one in ten had never heard of any of the most common types of vaginal conditions including thrush, gonorrhoea, chlamydia or herpes. This lack of awareness has lead to many misconceptions around vaginal health.
"It’s a real problem, there is a strong misconception among women that vaginal infections are a personal hygiene problem or due to being unclean, and ironically the exact opposite is true," Dr Ginni says. "The vagina is naturally self-cleaning, and so-called cleaning methods such as douching and vaginal cleaning products can do more harm than good."
How is bacterial vaginosis diagnosed?
Diagnosis is made by a vaginal examination and a microscopic examination of a sample of the vaginal discharge.
How do you treat bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis will often resolve itself, other treatments involve antibiotics like metronidazole and over the counter gels and creams. It's important to avoid irritants and douching as well. Unsurprisingly, many women are turning to Internet theories in a bid to deal with bacterial vaginosis on their own.
"The measures women take have become more varied with the rise of celebrity and influencer endorsed remedies, like vaginal steaming or inserting objects like crystal eggs or garlic into the affected area," Dr Ginni says. "These remedies are unproven and ineffective, and not only will have little to no effect whatsoever, but BV will remain untreated or keep coming back."
Your GP or pharmacist should be your first port of call, not Goop.
What are some of the complications if BV goes untreated?
"If BV isn’t properly treated however it can lead to more serious problems, such as a higher risk of HIV infection, STIs, such as the herpes simplex virus, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and human papilloma virus (HPV), and possible complications during pregnancy including early or preterm, delivery and loss of pregnancy," Dr Ginni says.
"The recurring nature of BV means it can also have a substantial impact on women’s emotional, sexual and social lives, beyond just the physical symptoms."
More than half of women who have experience bacterial vaginosis said that they avoided sex or intimacy, felt dirty and unclean, and felt embarrassed and self-conscious, and over a third said they felt uncomfortable at work.
"Bacterial vaginosis is an important health issue for which there are treatments that a healthcare professional can advise you on, so it’s important that we stop shying away from the conversation," Dr Ginni says.
"Overall, we need to be talk more openly about vaginal infections to improve women’s education and to shift attitudes about it so that women no longer feel in the dark about their own bodies, or feel the need to take unproven measures to treat symptoms."