For many women, a yeast infection is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about what can go wrong with the vagina. Yet oftentimes, it’s an overgrowth of bacteria, not yeast, that causes an infection and the unpleasant symptoms that come along with it.
BUT, Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15 to 44.
To help you better understand what’s going on down there, here are six things you need to know about bacterial vaginosis.
1. The most noticeable symptom is a change in your discharge.
While some women never have symptoms and can get—and get over—bacterial vaginosis without even knowing they had it, for the vast majority, it causes itchiness, burning, and pain in the vagina. The telltale sign that it’s BV and not something else is that the discharge turns grey to white and has a fishy odor. The symptoms of BV are very similar to those of a yeast infection, which is why it’s important to see your ob/gyn for a diagnosis before self-treating. Your doctor can perform a few simple tests to determine what type of vaginal infection you have—one checks the pH of the vagina, and another involves analyzing vaginal secretions under a microscope to determine what microorganisms are present.
2. Bacterial vaginosis is not considered to be an STD, but sex is one of the most common causes.
Any time you have sex with a new partner, or if you’re having sex with multiple partners regularly, your chance of developing BV increases. Simply exposing yourself to someone else’s microbes can throw the bacterial balance off kilter. Bacterial vaginosis is actually more common in women having sex with women, because the vaginal bacteria can be passed from one partner to the other in that situation.
3. Some types of lube can also trigger a bacterial infection like vaginosis.
Using the right lube for your vagina is important for both enjoying sex and making sure your vagina stays healthy after. Experts don’t typically recommend women use oil-based lubricants like petroleum jelly because they can stick around in the vagina for too long, disrupting the pH and causing an infection.
4. BV is also linked to an increased risk of contracting and passing along STDs.
The CDC says that bacterial vaginosis can increase your risk of getting a viral STD and for those infected with HIV, make it easier for you to pass it along to a partner. However, the reason for these connections isn’t clear. Cackovic suggests that part of this may be that simply having more sexual partners increases your risk for both BV and STDs in general.
5. Many women develop bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy.
In fact, about one in four pregnant women get bacterial vaginosis. There is a link between bacterial vaginosis and both preterm delivery and low birth weight in babies, so it’s important to be treated quickly if you’re pregnant. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that antibiotics given to clear up bacterial vaginosis are perfectly safe at any stage of pregnancy.
6. Treatments for BV are taken either orally or vaginally, and symptoms will start clearing up in a day or two.
Once your doc determines you indeed have a bacterial infection, he or she will prescribe you antibiotics to knock it out and you’ll need a short course of antibiotics.