Bacterial Vaginosis is one of the most common vaginal infections among women. One in three women may suffer from this condition at some stage. Whilst many women experience thrush, few women have heard about or are fully aware of the symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis (BV).
Bacterial Vaginosis is an infection which may occur if there is a notable decrease in the healthy vaginal bacteria, lactobacilli, and rapid growth of other bacteria. A few of these other bacteria are naturally present in your vagina but in lower numbers. The other bacteria may include species like e-Coli, Gardnerella vaginalis, Atopobium vaginae, Mobiluncus species, Prevotella species, and some other Bacterial Vaginosis related bacteria. The changes caused by these bacteria bring about a notable increase in the vaginal pH and amines, which produce a bad odour.
pH level of the Vagina
It is important to maintain the pH level of the vagina to keep it healthy and avoid infections. A pH below 7 is considered as acidic and a pH above 7 is considered as basic. The vaginal pH should be less than 4.5 to be considered as normal. So, the lower the pH is, the more acidic the vaginal environment will be.
Doctors can use a vaginal pH measurement to measure the acidity of the vaginal environment. A high vaginal pH may provide an appropriate environment for bacteria and yeast to thrive in the vagina thus causing many infections and diseases. A normal vaginal pH range between 3.8 and 4.5. This is the safe pH level which allows bacterial and fungal infections to be kept at bay. There are a number of self-testing kits that can now help women to self-diagnose BV.
How does pH imbalance cause bacterial vaginosis?
The vagina contains some good bacteria that are naturally present there. Such bacteria are called lactobacilli. These bacteria produce lactic acid which makes the vaginal environment acidic. When there is a decrease in the number of the good bacteria or lactobacilli, the pH levels start rising. This makes the vagina less acidic and this in turn gives the harmful bacteria and yeast or fungus a chance to grow and thrive in the vagina. When pH levels increase they provide the appropriate conditions for many harmful bacteria to thrive, leading to bacterial infections such as Bacterial Vaginosis.
What makes pH rise higher than 4.5?
Anyone of the following factors could make your vaginal pH shoot up or cause an imbalance in it:
- Unprotected sex: The semen is alkaline in nature and can encourage the growth of bacteria. This could raise the pH levels in the vagina.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics, when taken, kill bad bacteria but also the good bacteria present in the vagina. In the absence of the good bacteria, the vaginal environment cannot be maintained at the regular acidic pH levels.
- Vaginal Douching: Although it is not advised to do so, some women douche in the belief that it will clean the vagina. This involves putting water, soaps or other products in the vagina & rinsing them out. Some of the ingredients in feminine care products, including ones marketed for ‘intimate care’ or ‘feminine hygiene’ may increase the vaginal pH level. This promotes the overgrowth of the harmful bacteria & fungi by upsetting the natural balance of the vagina.
How many women in the UK suffer from Bacterial Vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause of unusual vaginal discharge & affects up to 1 in 3 women. It can be commonly mistaken for thrush. In pregnant women, there can be a small risk of complications, such as a premature birth or miscarriage.
How can you keep things in balance?
To avoid developing Bacterial Vaginosis, the pH levels of the vagina must be kept under control. You can follow some basic steps to do so:
- Keeping your vaginal bacteria under control: You should always use warm water to clean the outer areas of your vulva. Using soap should be avoided as even the mildest of soaps can irritate the delicate. If needed you can use a mild emollient, instead of soap. Wearing breathable, cotton underwear is also beneficial.
- Put a stop to douching: The practice of douching is not advised by doctors. Douching makes your vagina more susceptible to the bad bacteria and which again in turn increases the risk of Bacterial Vaginosis. Even after treatment, you can get infected by BV if you continue to douche as soap will affect the natural pH levels of the vagina.
- Practicing safe sex: BV is understandably more common among women who are sexually active. Using condoms can decrease your risk of developing bacterial vaginosis and reduce your risk of sexual transmitted diseases.
When to see your GP?
Bacterial Vaginosis is harmless and common. It is not classified as an STD. If you face any symptoms, you can just find a doctor in London or visit a sexual health clinic to get treated. It is easily treated and seeing a GP will help treat your symptoms faster.
You need to see a GP in case your normal vaginal discharge has changed, for example: If your discharge has a particularly fishy smell, especially after sex.
- 1. If your discharge is thin and watery.
- 2. If your discharge is white or grey.
- 3. If your discharge has changed
Bacterial Vaginosis is quite a common disease infecting many women. It is easily curable, and the best way is to visit your nearest specialist clinic.