Everything You Need to Know About Bacterial Vaginosis (Gardnerella)
When it comes to vaginal health, many women shy away from the unpleasant details. Conditions that affect the look, feel or smell of the vagina can be embarrassing to talk about to a friend or partner, let alone a doctor, and so often the problem is swept under the carpet in the hope that it goes away on its own.
While some conditions can clear up safely on their own, there are others that require medical treatment. This is because they can lead to serious complications. One such condition is bacterial vaginosis (BV), or gardnerella. Though BV does not usually pose any serious health risks, it can sometimes lead to complications if it is not treated.
Bacterial Vaginosis: Causes & Symptoms
Bacterial vaginosis is a condition affecting women in which the bacteria inside the vagina become unbalanced. In a healthy vagina, bacteria called lactobacilli are present. These bacteria keep the vagina slightly acidic and prevent the growth of other types of bacteria. Women suffering from BV are lacking in lactobacilli, which means other types of bacteria can begin to grow. One type of bacteria that can develop inside the vagina is Gardnerella vaginalis, which is why bacterial vaginosis is also known as gardnerella.
The main problem with BV is that it is not known exactly what causes it. However, you are more at risk of bacterial vaginosis if you are sexually active, if you use an IUD for contraception, or if you smoke. It is also thought that overuse of antibiotics and vaginal douching can contribute to the condition (in general, douching is not recommended).
Around 50% of all women with bacterial vaginosis suffer no symptoms, which can make it hard to diagnose. Women who do develop symptoms will typically produce unusual vaginal discharge that has a strong unpleasant smell. The smell is sometimes described as “fishy” and tends to be worst after sexual intercourse or during menstruation. The discharge may also be white, grey, thin or watery.
Complications of Bacterial Vaginosis
For the majority of women, bacterial vaginosis should not be a cause for concern and usually, the main issue that surrounds BV is embarrassment. The good news is that BV can be treated with a short course of antibiotics, once it has been tested for and diagnosed by a doctor. However, it is quite common for BV to recur, meaning treatment may be needed again within a few months.
For a small number of women, bacterial vaginosis can be more dangerous. This is particularly the case for pregnant women. Though it is not known precisely what the risks are, BV can sometimes cause premature birth, miscarriage, problems with the amniotic sac, and an infection in the womb after birth. For this reason, it’s important to talk to your GP if you are pregnant and experiencing the symptoms of BV.
There is also some evidence to suggest that bacterial vaginosis makes you more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Sexually Transmitted Infections
While bacterial vaginosis is not classed as a sexually transmitted infection, it is more common in people who are sexually active, especially when they have multiple partners. Women cannot “pass on” bacterial vaginosis to male partners, but it is possible for men to contract gardnerella (usually with no symptoms). There is evidence, however, that women can pass on BV to female partners.
One thing to be aware of is that the main symptom of BV is also common in certain sexually transmitted infections. Trichomoniasis, chlamydia and gonorrhoea are three STIs that can result in unusual, unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge, as with BV. The complications of chlamydia and gonorrhoea can be serious if left untreated, so you should get tested if you are experiencing unusual discharge of any kind.
It’s also a good idea to get regularly tested if you are sexually active with a new partner, sleeping with multiple partners, and/or engaging in unprotected sex. If you don’t want to visit a GP or sexual health clinic, you can order home STI test kits over the internet from a trusted source like The GUM Clinic.
Click here to find out more about bacterial vaginosis and to order a home test kit.