The three common vaginal infections with which women may contend are candidiasis (yeast infection), trichomoniasis (protozoan-caused and sexually transmitted), and bacterial vaginosis (BV). Of these, BV is the most common and compromises almost 80% of vaginal infections. It is now thought that BV can be sexually transmitted, though treating the male partner has not been shown to increase effectiveness of treatment of females or lead to decreased recurrence. BV is caused by several bacterial organisms that normally live in the vagina but overgrow for various reasons, leading to a pH imbalance.
Common symptoms of BV include a strong, fishy odor that is stronger after intercourse or during a menstrual period. The condition is also very irritating and will not be treated effectively by over-the-counter medications that are meant for treatment of yeast infections.
There is a link between having a new sexual partner or having multiple sexual partners and developing a BV infection, and the use of condoms is both recommended and necessary. Women in these situations should have a low threshold for coming in for evaluation.
Because women may have more than one of the three common vaginal infections occurring at the same time, the only way to accurately assess the cause of a vaginal infection is to be seen by a physician for appropriate evaluation.
Many women self-diagnose themselves based on their symptoms and over-the-counter (OTC) pH tests. Unfortunately, other infections may be missed. It is important to be seen as soon as possible for vaginal infections, since worsening of the condition may occur and could lead to pelvic infection of the uterus and tubes (known as pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID). Bacterial vaginosis is also felt to be a causative agent for preterm labor/delivery and rupture of membranes.
The most effective treatment for BV is metronidazole, a specific antibiotic that treats the common bacteria causing BV. Metronidazole is available in oral and vaginal dosage forms. You should not drink alcohol or take medications containing alcohol while being treated with this antibiotic since doing so could lead to severe nausea/vomiting.
Another antibiotic effective against BV is clindamycin, and it is also available in oral and vaginal forms. One should be aware while using the vaginal preparation that it can weaken latex condoms. Additionally, patients may develop colitis while using clindamycin. The medication should be stopped and your physician contacted immediately if diarrhea develops while using clindamycin.
As mentioned previously, BV is an infection that occurs when there is an overgrowth of bacteria that are normally present in the vagina in small numbers. The vaginal bacterium that usually maintains the vaginal pH balance is a member of the Lactobacillus species. An OTC supplement known as acidophilus (a probiotic) contains cultures of this type of bacteria. It is thought that taking acidophilus may help to restore the normal vaginal environment by replacing the likely low population numbers of Lactobacillus. This has not been proven, but using this strategy is not harmful. In addition, eating a healthier diet low in carbohydrates (sugars), fats, and fast food as well as smoking cessation and drinking less alcohol will lead to getting control over this infection as well as aid in preventing it.
Here are some tips that may decrease the risk of BV or recurrent BV:
- Don’t douche. Douching upsets the normal pH balance of the vagina.
- Avoid sexual contact with someone who has a sexually transmitted disease; use condoms if you’re uncertain.
- Avoid local irritants such as bubble baths, harsh soaps, feminine hygiene sprays and deodorant tampons, all of which can affect the normal pH of the vagina.
- Reduce semen exposure (which can affect the vaginal bacteria balance) by using condoms.
- This is worth repeating…..don’t smoke.
- If you develop BV three or more times in a year, talk to your health care professional about alternating medications or using intravaginal metronidazole as a prophylactic for three to six months.
Grand Mesa Women’s Health Care makes every effort to have same-day appointments available to assist you, your female family members, and your friends that are having issues that might be related to BV or any other health issue. Please feel free to give us a call any time you need to at (970) 242-2429.