THE vagina is an amazing, self-cleaning machine.
And part of that self-cleaning service is the discharge we produce.
It’s totally normal for you to find a bit of creamy goop in your underwear – but changes to the colour, consistency and smell of your discharge can be a sign that you’ve got an infection.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal health condition.
But very few of us have ever heard of it and 60 per cent of women who have BV mistake their symptoms for thrush – meaning that they’re not treating the real infection.
Gynaecologist Dr Shazia Malik and women’s health brand Balance Activ have come up with five facts that every woman needs to know about BV:
1. It’s more common than thrush but nobody knows it
We’ve all heard of thrush and most of us know how to treat thrush when it kicks in (hello, Canisten!).
But BV is actually a more common infection.
Unlike thrush, which is a yeast infection, BV is a bacterial condition which is twice as common as thrush.
“Very few women are aware of it meaning more than 60 per cent of them are misdiagnosing their symptoms as thrush,” Dr Malik said.
“We don’t know exactly why this is. But the fact that thrush is so widely known and talked about means women are much more likely to think of thrush when experiencing abnormal vaginal symptoms.”
While it is common, it can be dangerous if left un-or-misdiagnosed, because it can increase your risk of STIs, pre-term birth and low birth weight, as well as pelvic inflammatory disease.
And because it can be uncomfortable, BV can impact on women’s emotional health.
According to the American Sexual Health Association, 79 per cent of women with BV have avoided being intimate with their partner due to their condition – meaning that it ends up affecting your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
2. It’s totally natural and normal
But just because it can become serious, that doesn’t mean that BV isn’t incredibly normal and natural.
“BV is a completely natural and normal problem – and any woman can get it,” Dr Malik explains.
“In fact, at least one in three of us will experience BV at some point.”
It’s not about being unhygienic or unhealthy.
Common triggers can include:
- using perfumed “intimate hygiene” products
- sex (especially with a new partner)
- heavy periods
- some antibiotics
- hormonal changes due to menopause or puberty
- hormonal changes due to pregnancy
- the coil
3. It’s not an STI
“Just in case you were wondering…BV is NOT a sexually transmitted infection,” Dr Malik stresses.
“Oh, and men cannot get BV.
“Confusingly, while it isn’t an STI, BV can be triggered by sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. This is because semen is alkaline and can affect the vaginal pH balance.”
Yet another reason why it’s a good idea to use a condom.
4. The symptoms are different to thrush
As we say, BV is often mistaken for thrush but the two are totally different infections – and the symptoms are different.
Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis
Symptoms of BV:
- Smell: possible fishy smell
- Discharge: thin, watery, possibly greyish white discharge or an abnormally large amount of discharge
- Discomfort: occasional discomfort
Symptoms of thrush:
- Smell: no smell
- Discharge: thick, white, curd-like discharge
- Discomfort: intense itching/burning sensation
5. It’s easy to treat
BV occurs when there’s a change to the natural pH balance in the vagina.
So you really want to avoid disrupting that delicate balance. But Dr Malik says that that’s not always possible.
However, there are four things you can do to stop the infection from recurring:
- Don’t use a douche or ever feel the need to “wash” your vagina by pushing water or detergents up there
- Don’t use perfumed soaps or antiseptic products down below or in the bath
- Try using a condom if you tend to get BV symptoms after having sex with a male partner
- Try using Balance Activ – one or two tubes a week or one pessary a day for four or five days, if there are times when you tend to get a recurrence, such as around the time of your period
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So if you do get it, don’t panic.
Just continue to wash with water and get some Balance Activ.
And whatever you do, don’t use any products marketed for cleaning your vagina – it does that job well on its own!