Despite its ubiquity – 1 in 3 of you will experience it, at some point – it's also something we don't talk about enough. A survey from Canesten Intimate Health found that 52% of women didn’t have a clue what bacterial vaginosis was, despite their high chance of dealing with it.
If that sounds like you (it's okay, no shame here) then you've come to the right place. We've got the BV all-you-need-to-know guide, so we can all get on the same page.
How do you get bacterial vaginosis?
Let’s get one thing straight: bacterial vaginosis is common. So common, in fact, that it’s twice as prevalent as thrush.
So, why does it happen? BV occurs when the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina goes amiss. Instead of all your good bacteria leading the way, the bad stuff gets on top, making what should be a slightly acidic environment more alkaline – triggering the likes of a bacterial vaginosis infection, and reducing the effectiveness of your vagina’s naturally protective mucus.
Some of the common culprits behind bacterial vaginosis include:
How do I know what is normal discharge and what is an infection?
That’s the million-dollar question. Why? Because, as we’ve said already, everyone is different and 50% of women don’t experience symptoms of bacterial vaginosis at all.
General symptoms are:
A fishy-smelling vagina
Watery, grey or thin discharge – or more discharge than usual
Not sure if your symptoms are ticking the box? Or, worried you may have symptomless BV? Check in with your GP, try on online symptom checker or invest in an over-the-counter product such as the Canestest.
Can I get BV from sex?
'BV is not a sexually transmitted disease,' says consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology, Ash Alam. 'It's an overgrowth of bacteria and has similar symptoms to thrush though thrush is an overgrowth of yeast.'
Can not having regular sex cause bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is more common in people who are sexually active – 85 percent of women who get BV are also getting some. The reason being that semen is naturally alkaline.
Therefore, having a new sexual partner or having multiple partners can cause a bout of BV, as can not using a condom, receiving oral sex, or having anal sex before vaginal intercourse without using a new protective barrier.
Note: BV cannot be passed on to men, but it can be passed between women.
Can birth control cause bacterial vaginosis?
We’ve all heard the rumours – but is there any truth in them?'Some people believe that their contraceptive can affect the prevalence of the BV,' says gynaecologist Tania Adib. 'And yes, this is true. However, this depends on the type of contraception you use as some can actually reduce your risk of getting BV.'
So, before you consider coming off the contraceptive pill, it’s been scientifically shown that women who take a hormonal contraceptive are less likely to get bacterial vaginosis. The catch? If you use an IUD, you’re not included.
'Women who use an intrauterine device such as a coil, can be more susceptible to having BV due to the possible increased bacteria as a result of the coil’s presence in the vagina, as well as the change in menstrual bleeding, which can onset bacterial vaginosis,' Adib says.
How can I treat BV at home?
Generally you can get over the counter medication in terms of acidic gels which restore the normal pH balance of your vagina. However Alam advises to look at your lifestyle. 'You can treat BV by changing what you're washing your body with and making sure you're not using any perfumed soaps.
What's the best treatment for bacterial vaginosis?
So, bacterial vaginosis can go away by itself – but, if you’re in the 50% experiencing fishy odours and grey discharge, chances are you won’t want to wait.
Your GP or a sexual health clinic should be able to prescribe a course of antibiotics tablets, or a treatment cream or gel (watch out, as these can weaken the latex in condoms).
What is the best natural cure for bacterial vaginosis?
Prefer to do things au naturel? Well, if you’re asking yourself 'Can probiotics treat bacterial vaginosis?' or 'Does yoghurt cure bacterial vaginosis?', read on.
'Whilst people do talk about natural remedies for BV such as treating the area with apple cider vinegar or tea tree oil, I would advise against this, as there is little evidence to say that these work – and, if you are not applying them in a sterile environment, it could worsen the condition or cause it to recur,' says Adib.
'I have also heard of women using live yoghurt in and around their vagina, however, I would not recommend this either. Women may use it with the idea that it contains lactobacilli (a type of friendly bacteria) however, a lot of the time the yoghurt will not contain the bacteria specifically needed by the vagina.
'I would recommend for women to use a proper, manufactured probiotic treatment with lactobacilli already in it that is sterile and suitable to use. These can often be found as capsules that are inserted into the vagina directly or taken orally.'
What is the reason that I keep getting bacterial vaginosis?
You’ve had BV, got it treated, but, damn, it’s back. You’re not alone. Up to 72 percent of women will get a recurrence of bacterial vaginosis within seven months.
Those triggers will be the same as before, so your best bet at keeping this condition at bay is to identify what does it for you. Is it semen? Abstain. (Jokes). Try using a condom.
Are you using 'intimate hygiene' products? Follow our guide on how to clean your vagina, instead. Have you been fitted with an IUD? It can double the risk of BV in certain women; perhaps consider an alternative form of contraception.
Gynaecologist Ash Alam explains, 'no one has truly found the one cause for BV so therefore this could be happening for multiple reasons. So a few things to try is to change to an alternative body wash that is not perfumed, don't douche and generally look after your vaginal health.'
Stress can also be a cause for BV so looking after your mental health is also key.
Can BV affect my fertility?
The good news is that there’s no evidence to show that bacterial vaginosis negatively impacts fertility so, if you are one of the unlucky ones, who suffers from repeat episodes, and you’re wanting to start a family, you’ll be no worse off.
The only instance when BV could cause a problem, is if you are pregnant. Then it’s best to get seen by a medical expert as a) you might need a slightly different treatment to usual; and b) it may increase your risk of miscarriage symptoms, premature birth or having a low-weight baby.
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