The Five Most Important Things You Should Know About: Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis, also known as BV, isn’t the most pleasant of subjects in polite company, but it’s something that every woman needs to know about. Not only is it the most frequent cause of vaginal infections, it’s also common during pregnancy and can cause problems as serious as miscarriage, pre-term labor, ectopic pregnancies, serious uterine infections, or even infertility if left unchecked.

1. Bacterial vaginosis means that the balance between good bacteria and harmful bacteria is upset and the harmful bacteria end up overpowering the good. The cause of bacterial vaginosis is unclear, but if you’re experiencing unpleasant discharge with a bad odor, burning, itching, or pain, see a doctor as soon as possible, especially if you’re pregnant. Bacterial vaginosis is not something you should attempt to self-diagnose because symptoms can be confused with urinary tract infections. Most women have no symptoms at all and discover the problem during a routine gynecological checkup.

2. Bacterial vaginosis is not strictly an STD. Your risk for bacterial vaginosis increases when you engage in sexual activity with a new partner or have multiple sex partners at one time, but virgins can get bacterial vaginosis, too. Don’t worry about getting it from public toilets, swimming pools or casual contact; that’s a myth. Douching, however, can greatly increase the risk for BV.3. If you think you have BV, don’t panic. There are millions of women walking around with this infection who aren’t even aware of it. However, bacterial vaginosis does cause some risk factors, which is one of the major reasons that it’s important for women to have gynecological exams annually. Besides risks during pregnancy, having BV increases both your own risk and your sex partner’s risk of contracting HIV if you’re exposed to the virus; it can cause serious infections during surgical procedures like hysterectomies; and it can make you more susceptible to contracting other STDs, such as herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.

4. If you’re diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis (a doctor will search for telltale signs during your pelvic exam and confirm his or her diagnosis with laboratory tests), it’s crucial that you follow the course of treatment your doctor prescribes. BV is treatable with antibiotics but it can reoccur, so don’t assume that if you had symptoms and they’ve gone away, you’re all better. Continue treatment until your doctor tells you that you can stop, and realize that unlike viruses, you can contract BV more than once.

5. Bacterial vaginosis can be spread by sexual activity, so the normal precautions to avoid STDs, such as using condoms, are recommended. During unprotected sex, a male partner generally can’t contract the disease, but bacterial vaginosis can spread between two female sex partners. [CDC, Medline Plus]

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