Bacterial Vaginosis. It sounds utterly horrific, like something that could wipe out armies and decimate the global population in days. Move over pandemic flu. By the name we can guess it's something to do with vaginas, but what exactly is it? An Armageddon style STI that'll make your lady parts fall off? Someone call Bruce Willis.
OK, OK. It's an infection, but not a sexually transmitted infection, although conversely sex can bring on the symptoms. Bacterial vaginosis is what can occur if the balance of bacteria in your vagina is disrupted.
It's thought that 1 in 3 women will develop bacterial vaginosis during their life. Some have repeat infections. The symptoms are similar to thrush. Your normal vaginal discharge may turn thin and watery, and there may be a strong fishy smell, especially after sex. Your discharge may be white or grey too, but unlike thrush there are not usually any symptoms of soreness or itching.
It's not classed as an STI, but you do need to get treatment.
It's not thought that men can pick up bacterial vaginosis from female partners, but female-to-female contact may spread the infection.
You can develop bacterial vaginosis by using strong or perfumed soaps 'down there'. Here are some other triggers:
• Oral sex
• Vaginal deodorant
• Douching (flushing water inside the vagina)
• Hormonal changes in the menstrual cycle
• Semen (sex without condoms)
• The Intrauterine Device IUD - otherwise known as the coil
• Your genes
Probably every woman on the planet will identify with at least one of those triggers. It's easy to see why it's so common.
If your GP thinks you have bacterial vaginosis then they'll take a vaginal swab at the surgery or at your local GUM clinic. If it's positive, you'll be prescribed a course of antibiotics or an antibacterial cream, which is applied directly to the vagina. Simple.
If the infection keeps coming back you may end up with antibiotics to take at the start and end of your period.
There isn't any definitive evidence that bacterial vaginosis causes a problem getting pregnant, but some women with the infection have suffered premature labour, delivered low birth weight babies, miscarried, or delivered a stillborn baby. It's worth pregnant ladies asking for the test if they are concerned.
Oh, one last thing. We know now that bacterial vaginosis can lead to problems in pregnancy, but if left untreated it can also increase your risk of developing STIs such as gonorrhoea, syphilis, or genital warts. If you are concerned, or just want to be informed in case the topic comes up at pub quiz night, take a look at our bacterial vaginosis information page.
You are welcome.