Bacterial vaginosis (also known as bacterial vaginitis), abbreviated Bacterial vaginosis, is another common form of vaginal inflammation. Its causes are less well understood than those of yeast infections. As researchers have tried to zero in on the microorganism responsible, Bacterial vaginosis has been renamed several times: Haemophilus vaginitis, Gardnerella vaginitis, nonspecific vaginitis, Corynebacterium vaginitis, and anaerobic vaginosis.

What are the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis?

The most common symptom in women is a foul-smelling milky or grayish-yellow vaginal discharge. Its distinct “fishy” smell is strongest when in contact with something alkaline, for example semen or soap, so the odor is most pronounced after sexual intercourse and, ironically, when you are trying to wash it away. Sometimes, but not usually, bacterial vaginosis causes vaginal itching or burning.

Men infected with the disease may have a discharge from the penis or they may experience irritation when urinating. Most have no symptoms at all, so pass on the disease unknowingly.

What causes bacterial vaginosis?

Although several different bacteria have been associated with this condition, a bacterium called Gardnerella vaginalis usually can be cultured from the vaginal discharge of someone with the symptoms of Bacterial vaginosis. There is some question whether Gardnerella actually causes the disease or is simply a marker for it. Is Gardnerella merely present in the vaginal discharge that gets cultured to diagnose the disease, or is Gardnerella responsible for the symptoms? Many researchers believe that bacteria that thrive in the absence of oxygen are actually the culprits and that Gardnerella, which needs oxygen to live, is simply a fellow traveler.

Bacterial vaginosis is often associated with sexual activity and is sometimes considered an sexually transmitted disease. Unless the disease recurs, it is generally not necessary to test your partner.

How is bacterial vaginosis diagnosed’?

Your physician can diagnose bacterial vaginosis through your physical symptoms, including the color and odor of the discharge. Examination under the microscope may show the presence of “clue” cells, that is, cells of the vaginal lining that are dotted with bacteria. If doubt remains, or if you are pregnant, a sample of the discharge will be sent to a laboratory for a culture. Results are usually available in three days.

Is bacterial vaginosis dangerous?

For most women, Bacterial vaginosis is an annoyance, something that can easily be treated and will quickly go away (though it may come back). It is not as benign as a yeast infection, however, since bacterial vaginosis has been associated with increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease. By altering the protective acidity of the vagina, Bacterial vaginosis may allow the harmful organisms that cause gonorrhea and chlamydia to ascend through the cervix and multiply in the uterus or fallopian tubes.

For pregnant women, Bacterial vaginosis carries the additional risk of premature rupture of the membranes and thus premature labor and delivery. For this reason, many doctors in the past five or ten years test women for Bacterial vaginosis both before and during pregnancy.

Treating Bacterial Vaginosis

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