What is bacterial vaginosis?
Our bodies are naturally prepared to maintain their inner balance. After millennia of evolution, they have developed structures and metabolic processes that are meant to keep us healthy and functioning. These mechanisms have to be stronger in the parts of our bodies that are more exposed to the exterior agents such as germs and dirt that may cause disruption in our health. Most of our body is covered by a protective layer that is the skin, but certain parts are not completely sealed and thus they can be in a closer contact to the external environment. This is the case, in example, of the mouth, the ears and the vagina.
Female inner genitalia have several natural barriers that protect them from harmful germs and other threats to their health. For example, the vagina has a balance of different kinds of bacteria that live inside of it without harming the body. If this balance is broken, certain bacteria reproduce inside of it and change the microbiology of the vagina. This causes unfortunate symptoms, but the biggest danger is that these bacteria can spread out throughout the pelvis and cause illness and even death.
Bacterial vaginosis is an overgrowth of a certain type of bacteria (anaerobic bacteria) inside the vagina. Some infections are asymptomatic, but in most cases this condition is manifested in constant discharge, especially right after sex or menstruation, which usually has a fishy odour. In some cases, bacterial vaginosis could cause itch or burning inside the vagina, but this is not very frequent. If you want more information, see here for a full description of BV.
What causes bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection, although it is more frequent in sexually active women or after a change of sexual partner. As it is due to the alteration in the natural balance of the vagina, the most frequent cause is excessive intervention in the biochemistry of inner female genitalia.
An intrauterine device (IUD) releases chemical substances that modify the chemical environment of the vagina, therefore it is a risk factor for bacterial vaginosis. However, the main cause of this condition is altering the PH of the vagina due to inappropriate hygiene practices. Unlike what it could seem at first sight, a cleaner vagina is not a safer vagina. As we have stated, the vagina has a natural, self-balancing system of bacteria that should not be altered. Some hygienic practices could alter this microbiological inner environment directly or by altering the vaginal PH. Injecting water into the vagina (a practice called douching) is never necesary to keep it healthy and actually damages its natural balance. Other substances must not be in contact with the vagina either: disinfectants, shampoo, strong detergent, scented soap and bath oils should never be used inside or around the vagina or in the underwear.
How can I know that I have bacterial vaginosis?
Even if bacterial vaginosis has a very typical symptom - excessive discharge with fishy odour, the diagnosis should always be confirmed before taking any measure. The best idea is to get a bacterial vaginosis test which is usually a vaginal swab. This test can be taken at a public or private facility. A PH test could be applied to a sample of the discharge, but a vaginal swab will be necesary to confirm the diagnosis.
Is bacterial vaginosis curable?
Yes, it is. There is an antibiotic called Metronidazole that can cure bacterial vaginosis within a week. This medication can be taken orally or through the vagina itself as a vaginal gel. Some people do not tolerate Metronidazole pills because they are difficult to digest; they may cause sickness or vomiting, especially if taken far from meals. These reactions do not appear when applying the vaginal gel.
You must never drink alcohol while taking Metronidazole. Alcohol abstinence must continue until 48 hours after the last dose of antibiotic. Metronidazole interferes with the capacity of the body to metabolize and clean out the alcohol that we drink. Even soft beverages such as beer could cause sickness if taken with Metronidazole treatment.
If you drink alcohol while you are taking Metronidazole, you will experience a series of unpleasant symptoms such as excessive flushing, headaches, dizziness, vomiting and accelerated heart rate. Please see here to find out more about Metronidazole.
In some cases, the body can cure itself from bacterial vaginosis thanks to its natural self-balancing measures. This means that not taking any treatment is an option. However, be sure to consult your doctor about this matter. In certain cases, such as pregnancy, pregnancy termination or surgery, treatment is highly recommended because bacterial vaginosis could cause severe complications.
Click here to find out more about bacterial vaginosis.