‘Bacterial vaginosis’ is a very common condition in women. In fact, it is much more common than thrush. In the UK in 2007, more than 92,000 people attended a clinic because of bacterial vaginosis. If your genital area smells fishy, this is almost certainly the cause. It is an imbalance of the bacteria in the vagina. Its previous name was ‘anaerobic vaginosis’, and some medical textbooks still use this term.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis
- The main symptom is a fishy smell in the genital area. You may notice that the smell is worse after sex and during your period.
- There is usually a discharge, which is watery and greyish-white in colour.
- Bacterial vaginosis does not cause soreness or irritation.
Why women get bacterial vaginosis
What you should do about bacterial vaginosis
- See your doctor again for a repeat of the metronidazole treatment, or to try another antibiotic. Make sure you take all the prescribed medication; a research study has found that bacterial vaginosis is most likely to come back in women who did not take the whole course of antibiotic treatment (Annals of Internal Medicine 2008;149:20–28).
- Try acetic acid vaginal jelly, which you can buy from a pharmacy without a prescription (such as Aci-Jel or Balance Activ). These restore the natural acidity of the vagina, which may encourage a return to the natural balance of bacteria. It is not known whether or not they damage condoms and contraceptive diaphragms.
- Try yoghurt. Make sure the container says ‘live yoghurt’, because this contains live lactobacilli bacteria. It is the friendly lactobacilli bacteria that are reduced in numbers in bacterial vaginosis. Gently smear a small amount of yoghurt over the vulva (the area around the opening of the vagina), and also put some inside the vagina. The easiest way to do this is to use a tampon with its applicator. Push the tampon back inside the applicator so you have a space for about a teaspoonful of yoghurt. Then insert the tampon in the usual way, which will push the yoghurt into the top of the vagina. Remove the tampon an hour later. Do this twice a day for a week. According to the medical journal Bandolier, which looks at the scientific evidence for treatments, some research has shown that women using yoghurt treatment felt their symptoms were improved (www.jr2.ox.ac.uk/bandolier/band60/b60-3.html).
- If you have an intrauterine contraceptive device (‘coil’) and bacterial vaginosis is very troublesome, consider having the device removed. Bacterial vaginosis is more common in women using this type of contraception.
Stop smoking, as smoking seems to be linked with bacterial vaginosis.
Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Friday, February 26th 2010
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