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What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Although "yeast" is the name most women think of when they think of vaginal infections, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common type of vaginal infection in women of reproductive age. BV is caused by a combination of several bacteria. These bacteria seem to overgrow in much the same way as do Candida when the vaginal balance is upset. The exact reason for this overgrowth is not known.

Is Bacterial Vaginosis Spread Through Sex?

Bacterial vaginosis is not transmitted through sexual intercourse but is more common in women who are sexually active. It is also not a serious health concern but can increase a woman's risk of developing other sexually transmitted diseases and can increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) following surgical procedures such as abortion and hysterectomy. Some studies have shown an increased risk of early labor and premature births in women who have the infection during pregnancy. However, more recent investigations do not support this relationship.

What Are the Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis?

Up to 50% of the women who have bacterial vaginosis do not have any symptoms. Most women learn they have the infection during their annual gynecologic exam. But if symptoms appear, they can include:

  • White or discolored discharge.
  • Discharge that smells "fishy" that is often strongest after sex.
  • Pain during urination.
  • Itchy and sore vagina.

How Is Bacterial Vaginosis Diagnosed?

Your doctor can tell you if you have bacterial vaginosis. He or she will examine you and will take a sample of fluid from your vagina. The fluid is viewed under a microscope. In most cases, your doctor can tell right away if you have BV.

What Is the Treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis can only be treated with drugs ordered by your doctor. Over-the-counter remedies will not cure BV. The most common drugs prescribed for BV are called metronidazole (Flagyl) and clindamycin (Cleocin). These medications may be taken as a pill or used as a vaginal cream or gel.

Should I Be Treated for Bacterial Vaginosis if I Am Pregnant?

Maybe. But some medications for bacterial vaginosis should not be taken during the first three months of pregnancy. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant. Also let your doctor know if you think that you might be pregnant. You and your doctor should discuss whether or not the infection should be treated.

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