The area around our bikini zone and the vagina is one of the most sensitive spots on a woman’s body. This can be a great advantage for pleasure but it also increases the risk of infections.
Bacterial vaginosis is one of the most common types of infection that women can get but what happens with untreated bacterial vaginosis?
Not only does BV feel uncomfortable in your intimate area but it can also affect urination.
In this practical guide, we look at the causes and symptoms of untreated bacterial vaginosis and what you can do to treat and prevent this irritating infection in the future.
What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there is an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in your vagina. The condition can cause unusual discharge from the vagina and a foul odor.
Also known as BV, this type of vaginal infection can affect women of any age but it is most commonly found in women between 15 and 44.
Similar to a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis often occurs in pregnant women because their immune system is typically more prone to viral and bacterial attacks.
It’s important to keep in mind that bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
However, BV can make your intimate area more vulnerable which means you may be at higher risk of getting an STI, such as herpes, chlamydia and hepatitis.
Symptoms Of Bacterial Vaginosis
Each woman may experience slightly different symptoms of bacterial vaginosis but some of the most common signs and symptoms of BV are:
- A strong, fishy odor coming from the vagina – you may notice this even more during or after sex
- Thin green or white vaginal discharge
- A burning sensation when you urinate
- Red skin or irritation around the vagina
- Pain in your bikini area or around the vagina
- Vaginal itching
If you notice any or all of these symptoms, then it is best to contact your doctor to find out if you have bacterial vaginosis.
It’s worth mentioning here that over half of the women with BV don’t have any symptoms at all.
What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?
There are a variety of different causes that lead to an imbalance of bacteria in your vagina. However, the specific causes are surprisingly not fully known to scientists.
Here are some of the most common causes of bacterial vaginosis:
- You changed your partner or you have frequently changing partners
- You use an IUD (a type of contraception device)
- You are sexually active (although women without regular sex can also get BV)
- You use perfumed products, such as deodorants, soaps or shampoos, around or in your vagina
While bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted disease, it can occur after sex. A man or woman can pass bacterial vaginosis to another woman during intercourse.
In fact, scientists discovered that a man’s penile microbiome (the bacteria around and inside a man’s penis) can accurately predict a potential bacterial vaginosis outbreak in a woman.
In addition, women with untreated bacterial vaginosis are also more prone to get an STI. This is most likely because their vagina produces less acid which can reduce the natural defense against infections.
How Does Bacterial Vaginosis Occur?
Scientists found that bacterial vaginosis occurs when there is an imbalance between the bad and good bacteria in a woman’s vagina.
Whenever something changes the chemistry in the vagina, then bacteria and viruses can affect this sensitive area.
This is the reason why unprotected sex and douching can lead to bacterial vaginosis. If whatever enters the vagina is not fully clean, then this can cause bacterial infections.
One of the most common bacteria associated with BV is Gardnerella. If there are only few good bacteria present in the vagina, then these lactobacilli can quickly grow resulting in common symptoms of BV.
Who Can Get Bacterial Vaginosis?
Anyone who has a vagina can potentially suffer from bacterial vaginosis. While it is common in women who are sexually active, it can also occur in those who don’t have regular sex or who never had sex.
There are a number of different groups of people who are at a slightly greater risk of getting bacterial vaginosis. These include:
- People who have multiple sex partners
- People who have a new sex partner
- People who use douches
- Pregnant women
- People who have an intrauterine device (internal contraception)
- People who take antibiotics
- People who don’t use dental dams or condoms
- People who use chemicals or perfumed products in or around their vagina
In addition, a study discovered that women who are obese also tend to get bacterial vaginosis more often than women with an average weight.
Even if you don’t fall into these categories, you may still get BV if your immune system is compromised, especially in your intimate area.
Is Bacterial Vaginosis Contagious?
No, bacterial vaginosis is not contagious because it doesn’t spread from one person to another.
However, it is important to understand that more sexual activity (especially without protection) can lead to more infections, including yeast infections and BV.
Although bacterial vaginosis isn’t contagious, it is important that you treat BV before you have sex with your partner or partners again.
BV can lead to discomfort in the groin area which means sex, especially penetrative sex, might be painful with untreated bacterial vaginosis.
Is Bacterial Vaginosis An STI Or STD?
Bacterial vaginosis is not considered an STD or an STI because it isn’t a sexually transmitted disease.
This being said, BV is often linked to an increase in sexual activity because more sexual encounters can change the bacterial microbiome within a woman’s vagina.
This could imbalance a woman’s good and bad bacteria count, resulting in bacterial overgrowth and BV symptoms.
Diagnosis Of Bacterial Vaginosis
If you checked the symptoms and you suspect that you have bacterial vaginosis, then it’s important that you contact your doctor as soon as possible.
He or she will examine your vagina and check for any typical signs of BV, such as vaginal discharge or foul odor.
As some of these symptoms may also indicate other health conditions, your healthcare provider will likely take a fluid sample from your vagina.
If your vagina or groin area feels itchy or painful, then this might cause slight discomfort but it shouldn’t hurt.
The swab might be examined under the microscope at the local practice or sent off for testing in a lab. Lab technicians will then check the sample for any harmful bacteria that might cause your symptoms.
You should have the test results from your vagina swab within a few days but this can vary. However, once your doctor has the results from the sample, he or she can recommend the right treatment options for you.
How Can You Check If You Have Bacterial Vaginosis At Home?
Many women may feel uncomfortable going to their doctor or gynecologist for a BV test. That’s where home testing kits can be useful to get an idea if you might have BV.
You can buy a BV home test kit online or at your local pharmacy. Some sexual health clinics also offer BV tests or other sexual health test kits that you can do at home.
These kits usually come with detailed instructions on how to take the test. With most kits, you need to take a sample swab or your vaginal fluid.
Then, you seal the sample in a container and mail it back to the health clinic or a lab. The results for these bacterial vaginosis home kit tests can take up to a week.
If your result is positive, then make sure to see a healthcare provider. Even if your results are negative, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor to find out more about the reasons for your symptoms.
What Is The Difference Between A Yeast Infection And Bacterial Vaginosis?
The only thing that bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections have in common is that they are both vaginal infections. They differ in symptoms and treatment.
Both yeast infections and BV can lead to vaginal discharge. However, the discharge from a bacterial infection has a foul, fishy smell, while yeast infections have a mild odor of cottage cheese.
Some women may not experience any odor at all with yeast infections.
It is rare that women experience itchiness or irritation around the vagina with bacterial vaginosis. On the other hand, a yeast infection causes an itchy sensation and sensitivity around the groin.
A yeast infection is easily treated with over-the-counter medication. In comparison, bacterial vaginosis requires stronger, prescription medication.
How Long Does It Take For Bacterial Vaginosis To Go Away?
Bacterial vaginosis only goes away when it is treated with antibiotics. When you start taking antibiotics, then it usually clears between 5 and 7 days.
If you suffer from recurring bacterial vaginosis or persistent BV, then it can take a longer course of antibiotics of up to three months for the symptoms to disappear.
It is important to keep in mind that untreated bacterial vaginosis does not usually go away on its own. This bacterial infection will persist and may even cause serious health concerns, especially in pregnant women.
That’s why it is essential that you seek treatment to prevent any complications.
Can Bacterial Vaginosis Go Away On Its Own?
While some women have reported that their BV disappeared without specific treatment, bacterial vaginosis is usually very persistent if not treated with antibiotics.
If you leave your BV untreated, then you may be at greater risk of complications, such as delivering your baby too early if you are pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
This is the reason why BV treatment is vital, especially for women who are pregnant.
How To Treat Bacterial Vaginosis
Once your doctor has confirmed that you have bacterial vaginosis, he or she can recommend suitable treatment options.
The most common treatment for bacterial vaginosis is a course of antibiotic tablets, creams or gels. Make sure that you use the antibiotics as prescribed to ensure that the BV fully clears.
In order for the treatment to be effective, women should avoid alcohol during the treatment and for a day after they completed the treatment.
In addition, women should only have sex with a condom during the treatment.
However, keep in mind that certain antibiotic creams can weaken diaphragms or latex condoms, so you may have an increased risk of getting pregnant.
Plus, if your intimate area still feels uncomfortable, then it might be best to refrain from sex until the completion of your treatment.
Can You Treat BV With Over-The-Counter Medication?
No, women with bacterial vaginosis shouldn’t treat their BV with over-the-counter gels, creams or tablets. They may relieve your symptoms for a couple of days but they don’t clear the underlying infection.
You will need prescription medication from your doctor to effectively treat bacterial vaginosis.
These prescribed creams or gels usually contain antibiotics that rebalance the bacteria microbiome in your vagina.
Can Bacterial Vaginosis Come Back?
Yes, bacterial vaginosis can come back within a few months or more after you completed your treatment. In fact, almost 60% of women experience recurring bacterial vaginosis.
Scientists aren’t sure yet why some women have continual BV several times a year while others seem to be immune to this bacterial infection.
If you get BV more than four times a year, then your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic cream or gel that you can apply inside your vagina to regulate the bacteria household.
While researchers can’t prove why bacterial vaginosis is so persistent in some women, they found a link between vaginal or oral probiotics and BV.
Women who take probiotics can possibly prevent current bacterial vaginosis but it’s important to check with your doctor before you start taking any other medications or supplements.
Complications Of Untreated Bacterial Vaginosis
If you treat bacterial vaginosis in time, then it doesn’t cause any health issues. However, if you leave your BV untreated, then you have a greater risk of getting STIs and pelvic inflammatory disease.
Pregnant women are also at risk of giving birth prematurely, with their being baby severely under average weight.
Here is an overview of potential complications associated with untreated bacterial vaginosis.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
BV weakens the immune response in a woman’s intimate area around the vagina. This increased the risk of other infections and sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia, HIV, gonorrhea and herpes.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
The bacteria associated with bacterial vaginosis does not just affect the vagina but it can also pass into the Fallopian tubes or the uterus.
This can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease which may increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy. In severe cases, it can even result in infertility.
Early Birth For Pregnant Women
Bacterial vaginosis is one of the most common infections in pregnant women. It can cause early labor contractions and you may even give birth prematurely if you don’t get your BV treated.
Plus, there is a high risk that your baby has a low birth weight if it leaves the womb too early.
Untreated bacterial vaginosis can result in pelvic inflammatory diseases which can affect the entire reproductive system of a woman.
BV bacteria can infect a woman’s organs, including her reproductive organs, which could lead to infertility.
Impact On A Woman’s Self-Esteem
One severe complication of bacterial vaginosis that is rarely talked about is the mental health impact that this infection can have on women.
BV without treatment doesn’t just cause physical symptoms but many women also feel ashamed that this happens to them.
Women may also feel more self-conscious struggling with their self-esteem. Plus, the infection can also severely affect their sex life.
If you have bacterial vaginosis, it is important to keep in mind that this is a very common disease and almost a third of women worldwide experience BV between the ages of 19 and 49.
It can be difficult to seek help when you feel ashamed but it is important for your own wellbeing to get a test and treatment for BV as soon as possible.
Can Bacterial Vaginosis Affect The Baby During Pregnancy?
Bacterial vaginosis is a common bacterial infection among pregnant women that can lead to serious health complications for the unborn child.
A study found that women with untreated BV often give birth earlier than expected. Plus, their babies usually have a low birth weight.
In order for your baby to have the best chance of a healthy start in life, make sure that you don’t leave your bacterial vaginosis untreated.
Can Bacterial Vaginosis Affect Your Chances Of Getting Pregnant?
There is no research data on whether bacterial vaginosis affects a woman’s ability to conceive. However, untreated BV can lead to infertility and health problems with a woman’s reproductive organs.
In addition, it has been proven that bacterial vaginosis increases the risk of a fetus or baby being born prematurely. This can result in a variety of health issues for the newborn, including low birth weight.
Can Bacterial Vaginosis Cause Infertility?
Yes, if bacterial vaginosis is left untreated, then this infection can cause pelvic inflammatory disease which results in tubal infertility.
While this is a rare complication of bacterial vaginosis, women need to make sure that they seek treatment for this infection before BV bacteria can spread to other parts of their reproductive organs.
How To Prevent Bacterial Vaginosis
The vagina has a carefully balanced bacteria count which naturally regulates itself. Only if the bad bacteria in your vagina start to take over, then you are at risk of bacterial vaginosis.
The bad bacteria count in our vagina only goes up whenever our sensitive vaginal membranes come into contact with harsh chemicals or anything that carries bacteria.
If you want to prevent a bacterial vaginosis outbreak, then here are our top tips on how to keep your vagina balanced.
Many women believe that douching cleanses the vagina. However, usually douches imbalance the bacteria household in your vagina.
That’s why make sure that you avoid any type of douches. If you still want to douche occasionally, it is a good idea to be aware of the risks and benefits of vaginal douching.
While some people say the only way to avoid bacterial vaginosis is to have no sex at all, this is simply not an option for the majority of women.
Instead, it is better to practice safe sex and use a condom. Keep in mind that medication and contraceptives can weaken latex condoms, so use as much protection as you can.
Limit The Number Of Sexual Partners
Continually changing sex partners and increased sexual activity can lead to more bad bacteria in a woman’s vagina.
If you have multiple sexual partners, then make sure to use a condom to avoid bacteria vaginosis and STDs.
Don’t Use Perfumed Soaps Or Creams Around Your Vagina
One of the reasons why so many women feel ashamed about a vaginal infection is because they think it means they are not clean.
While you should ensure that your hands (or your partner’s hands) are clean before you touch your vagina, you also should avoid using any products inside or around your intimate area.
Don’t use any creams, lotions, soaps or shampoos in your bikini zone. This does not just irritate your skin but also the sensitive tissue around your vagina.
The best way to keep your genitalia clean is by simply washing it with water. Your vagina does the rest for you.
How Common Is Bacterial Vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is extremely common in women of all ages. Women between 14 and 49 are more commonly affected than older women.
Data has shown that African American women suffer from BV twice as much as women with a white, European background. However, scientists can’t explain the reasons behind this racial disparity.
Bacterial vaginosis is easy to treat but affected women need to make sure that they seek treatment before any complications can cause serious health problems.