Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is an imbalance in the vaginal flora which creates an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the vagina.
What do those terms mean?
- Let's start with vaginal flora: Vaginal microbiome, also referred to as the vaginal flora, is the term used to describe the colonies of bacteria that reside in the vagina. The vagina is filled with both good and bad bacteria that work together to keep the vagina balanced.
- Balanced Vagina: A balanced vagina is talking about the pH level of the vagina. The pH scale is from 1 - 14, where a pH of 1 indicates something is acidic and a pH of 14 indicates something is alkaline (basic). Foods like lemon and vinegar are very acidic, whereas vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are more alkaline. A healthy vagina with the right amount of good and bad bacteria should have a pH level between 3.8 - 4.5.
- Good Bacteria vs. Bad Bacteria: The "good" bacteria in the vagina is called Lactobacilli, and when the vagina is in perfect harmony, the lactobacilli outnumber the "bad" bacteria known as anaerobes. Anaerobic bacteria is a classification, meaning there are many types. The more common types of anaerobic bacteria in the vagina are Gardnerella vaginalis, Atopobium vaginae, Ureaplasma urealyticum, and Mycoplasma hominis. The most common BV infections are caused by excessive amounts of Gardnerella vaginalis in the vagina.
How does bacterial vaginosis (BV) happen?
When vaginal pH is at the optimal level, between 3.8 - 4.5, the vaginal flora is likely in good harmony meaning there is the perfect balance of good and bad.
Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, occurs when bad bacteria outnumbers the good bacteria and the vaginal flora is out of balance. This can lead to a higher vaginal pH. As a result, you may have BV and experience symptoms such as:
- Vaginal smell;
- Vaginal itching;
- Vaginal discharge; and/or
- A burning sensation when you pee.
What causes bacterial vaginosis (BV)?
There are multiple causes of BV, but here are a few that impact more than others:
- Monthly period: Period blood has a pH of 7.4 - if you aren't changing your tampons regularly, period blood could impact the pH of the vagina and lead to BV. Given this typically happens once a month for women, it's very important to ensure you have good menstruation hygiene.
- Generally: Every person carries different bacteria on their body that your body may or may not be familiar with. Therefore, there is always a risk that as they enter you, they could be bringing bad bacteria that leads to BV.
- With a condom: Many condoms contain lubes or gels that may alter the pH of your vagina. If the lube or gel stays in the vagina for too long, it could lead to BV.
- Without a condom: Semen has a pH of 8. Whether or not you're on birth control, if semen stays in the vagina long enough it may alter the pH of your vagina leading to BV.
- Clothes: Cotton is Queen! While cotton may not be the sexiest underwear on the block, it sure is best for the vagina. Synthetic fabrics lock in moisture and create a breeding ground for bacteria. The bacteria can make it's way into the vaginal opening and lead to BV. It's also important to change out of wet bathing suits or sweaty gym clothes as those too, create a breeding ground for bacteria.
- Vaginal care products: Avoid things like douches, creams, and wipes. The vagina is wonderful self cleaning organ! Adding anything to it will disrupt the natural flora and can lead to BV.
- Antibiotics: While antibiotics can be good when needed, their purpose is to destroy bacteria that is harmful to the body. Antibiotics work by destroying all bacteria, good and bad, to flush bad infections. This can disrupt the vaginal flora, leading to BV.
- Diet: The prominent good bacteria in the vagina, lactobacilli, comes from many common foods. If you don't eat enough foods to continue to replenish the good bacteria, it can lead to BV.
- Try CRANEL! It has a low pH and can bring your vaginal pH down if it gets too high.
Is bacterial vaginosis (BV) rare?
No! In fact, BV is the most common infection in women ages 15 - 44.
Is bacterial vaginosis (BV) an STD?
Again, no! While sexual activity does put you more at risk of getting BV, there are many reasons other than sex as to why you may have BV.
However, studies have shown that having sex while you have BV can increase your chances of contracting an STI or STD such as HIV, herpes simplex virus, chlamydia or gonorrhea. If you have HIV, BV increases the odds that you'll pass the virus on to your partner.
BV symptoms are different from a yeast infection. Both will cause you to have discharge and a certain smell. BV will have more of a fishy smell, where as discharge from a yeast infection may be white or grey, like BV, but will look more like cottage cheese.
Can I get bacterial vaginosis (BV) multiple times?
Yes, in fact 80% of women who have had BV have had it more than once.
Is bacterial vaginosis (BV) treatable?
Yes, BV is treatable. It is important to speak with your medical professional as to what is the best solution.
- Antibiotics: if symptoms are serious, antibiotics are usually the best course of action.
- Probiotics: lactobacilli, the good bacteria, is found in common foods/drinks, namely CRANEL. Feeding your body good bacteria is a great way to prevent bad bacteria from taking over. Another point to note, CRANEL contains 500mgs of PACs, the active ingredient in cranberries that helps keep bad bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract, and keeping it flush!
The CDC states that 84% of women who have BV reported no symptoms. That's why it is so important to get check ups regularly.
Can bacterial vaginosis (BV) cause other problems?
BV doesn't cause other problems, however having BV may lead to other problems, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Preterm birth: BV can lead to premature birth or a low-birth-weight baby. Pregnant women with symptoms of BV should see their doctor immediately for testing and treatment (9).
- Sexually transmitted infections and diseases (STI/STD): Increased susceptibility to these STIs and STDs may be related to the decrease in protective bacteria, lactobacilli. Common infections and diseases are HIV, herpes simplex virus, chlamydia or gonorrhea. If you have HIV, BV increases the odds that you'll pass the virus on to your partner.
- Infection risk after gynecologic surgery: Having BV may increase the risk of developing a post-surgical infection after procedures such as hysterectomy or dilation and curettage (D&C).
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): BV can sometimes cause PID, an infection of the uterus and the fallopian tubes that can increase the risk of infertility.
How can I prevent bacterial vaginosis (BV)?
Prevention is key when it comes to managing any infection. There are a few tricks below to manage it:
- Don't douche: Avoid putting things in your vagina that don't need to be there, along with douching this includes lubes and creams. Your vagina is a self-cleaning organ, putting foreign mixtures up there will likely throw off the vaginal flora which leads to BV.
- Limit sex partners - when possible: We don't want you to stop enjoying your life, everyone has needs, but be aware that the more number of sex partners you have the more likely you are to get BV. This is because every person carries different bacteria on them, which puts you at greater risk of disrupting your vaginal flora.
- Clothing: Cotton is Queen! Try to avoid synthetic underwear as it traps in moisture and creates a breeding group for bacteria. That bacteria can make its way up and disrupt your vaginal flora, leading to BV. Also be sure to change out of sweaty clothes and don't stay in your wet bathing suit for too long.
- CRANEL: CRANEL cranberries have been clinically proven to flush UTI causing bacteria from the urinary tract. Cranberries also have a low pH, and can bring down the pH if it is too high. CRANEL is also bio-active and contains lactobacilli, the good bacteria that lives in your vaginal flora. CRANEL can help keep healthy levels so you avoid getting BV.