Bacterial infection of the vagina that sometimes causes an abnormal discharge
- Can affect sexually active females of any age
- Unprotected sex with multiple partners is a risk factor
- Genetics is not a significant factor
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by excessive growth of some of the bacteria that normally live in the vagina, particularly Gardnerella vaginalis and Mycoplasma hominis. As a result, the natural balance of these organisms in the vagina is altered. The reason for this is unknown, but the condition is more common in sexually active women and often, but not always, occurs in association with sexually transmitted infections. Vaginal infections can also be caused by an excessive growth of the candida fungus (see Vaginal thrush) and the protozoan Trichomonas vaginalis (see Trichomoniasis).
Bacterial vaginosis often causes no symptoms. However, some women may have a greyish-white vaginal discharge with a fishy or musty odour and vaginal or vulval itching. The disorder may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, in which some of the reproductive organs become inflamed.
What might be done?
Your doctor may be able to diagnose bacterial vaginosis from your symptoms. Swabs of any discharge may be taken and tested to confirm the diagnosis. Vaginosis is usually treated with antibiotics, either orally or as pessaries inserted in the vagina. Sexual partners should also be checked for infection and treated if necessary. Vaginosis usually clears up completely within 2 days of starting treatment, but the condition does tend to recur.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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