What is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is a form of vaginitis
, an infection of the vagina
. Vaginitis is pretty common and is the reason for lots of calls and visits to health professionals. Although these infections aren't serious, they're awfully uncomfortable, and a little embarrassing. But the good news is that a health professional can usually diagnose bacterial vaginosis during an office visit. More good news? Treatment is simple. Antibiotics will do the trick. back to top
How do you get bacterial vaginosis?
Who knew there was a battle of wills going on in your vagina? In fact, the vagina
contains a number of different bacteria
, including many that cause infections. Normally, a "good" bacteria, called lactobacillus
, is the most common bacteria in your vagina. Lactobacillus beats up the harmful bacteria and fungi
growing in your vagina. But anything that changes the environment of the vagina can weaken the good bacteria. This gives the harmful bacteria a chance to grow. If enough harmful bacteria grow, you can get bacterial vaginosis. back to top
What can I do to avoid bacterial vaginosis?
Harmful bacteria can start to grow if you wear anything near your vaginal area that does not allow air to circulate or if you put anything into your vagina that contains ingredients you could be allergic to. If you get vaginal infections often, these suggestions may help keep you infection-free:
How do I know if I have bacterial vaginosis?
- Wear cotton underwear.
- Don't wear pantyhose if possible.
- Don't use tampons with deodorant in them.
- Don't use anything around the vagina that's perfumed or has a print on it, even toilet paper.
- Use a gentle, non-drying soap.
- Avoid harsh laundry detergents. back to top
If you have bacterial vaginosis, you may have one or all of the following:
Sometimes your health professional can diagnose bacterial vaginosis just from the symptoms and no tests are needed. But it's often really hard to tell one type of vaginal infection from another. Two simple tests will help your health professional figure out what you've got. In the first test, your health professional will look at a sample of your vaginal discharge under the microscope. If there are vaginal cells covered with a certain kind of bacteria, that means you have bacterial vaginosis. In the second test, your health professional will send a sample of your discharge to the lab for a culture
. The lab will test it to find out exactly what kind of infection you have. Getting a culture can be especially helpful if you don't get better after treatment. Maybe the wrong diagnosis was made the first time. If you don't have bacterial vaginosis, these tests will help your health professional figure out what kind of infection you do have. back to top
How do I get rid of bacterial vaginosis?
If you have bacterial vaginosis, your health professional will give you oral antibiotics
. She or he may prescribe one of two drugs, metronidazole
(Flagyl®) or clindamycin
(Cleocin®). But since these oral antibiotics often cause side effects like nausea and diarrhea, she may tell you to use a gel or cream instead. Metronidazole gel and clindamycin cream can be applied directly inside the vagina. They work almost as well as oral antibiotics and have fewer side effects. back to top
How do I know if the medicine for bacterial vaginosis is working?
You should feel better within 24 hours of starting the right medication. If you don't feel better within 48 hours, it's possible that the medicine you're taking is not right for the infection you have. In that case, you should call your health professional. back to top
Can't I just buy one of those creams at the drugstore and treat myself?
Nope. They won't work. While there are lots of nonprescription medicines that will cure a yeast infection
, they won't cure bacterial vaginosis. If you think you have bacterial vaginosis, or if you tried a nonprescription medicine for a yeast infection but it didn't get better, you should call your health professional right away. back to top