It may not be something you want to discuss in public, but vaginal infections are pretty common in women of all ages. Of all those infections, bacterial vaginosis is the most common in women of childbearing age, according to the Centers of Disease Control. It’s also common in pregnant women, at least in the United States. Bacterial vaginosis has symptoms similar to other infections, such as STDs or yeast infections.
Every woman has a plethora of bacteria growing down there. Some of the bacteria, known as lactobacillus, are healthy and keep the so-called bad bacteria in check. Some women, such as those who naturally don’t produce enough lactobacillus, as well as African American women, are more likely to get bacterial vaginosis than others. Habits such as douching, which clears out the healthy and the unhealthy bacteria, can lead to an infection as well. Although bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted disease, for some reason, having multiple partners or a new partner can put you more at risk.
Symptoms of a bacterial infection include itching and burning as well as grayish discharge. Often the discharge has a fishy smell that seems to become worse after having sex. Sex may be painful, and you may feel burning when you pee. In many cases, you may not even know you have an infection, since most women are completely asymptomatic, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
To get the proper treatment, you need to get a proper diagnosis for bacterial vaginosis. If you have symptoms, they can be confused with another infection, so you need to see a doctor for a diagnosis. Your doctor will examine your vaginal area, perform a pelvic exam and take a sample of any discharge. She’ll examine the discharge under a microscope, looking for cells coated in bacteria. In some instances, she may test the acidity of your vaginal area, because a high level of acidity is a sign of vaginosis.
Bacterial vaginosis can clear up on its own, but the CDC recommends taking medication to avoid complications, especially if you are pregnant. Oral antibiotics such as metronidazole or clindamycin are common treatments. Take the medicine exactly as your doctor instructs, even if you feel better or your symptoms go away before the course is finished. Antibiotics are safe for pregnant women, though you may get a lower dose. Topical forms of metronidazole are also available.
Try to avoid bacterial vaginosis by not douching and by limiting the number of sexual partners you have or by not having sex at all. Using protection such as condom may lower your risk as well. Don’t use perfumed soaps in that area, and always dry thoroughly after you shower or bathe. You may also want to use unscented feminine products.