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Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is a common condition where the normal balance of bacteria inside the vagina becomes disrupted. In most cases BV does not cause any pain or itching. The most common symptom is an unusual vaginal discharge. A sufferer of bacterial vaginosis may present with vaginal discharge that:
- Has a strong fishy smell that is particularly strong after sexual intercourse.
- Is white or grey in colour.
- Is thin and watery.
Bacterial vaginosis does not pose a serious threat to health for the majority of sufferers. Around half of those affected with BV do not present with any symptoms at all. BV should only be treated as a concern should the condition develop during pregnancy and there is a history of pregnancy-related complications.
The vagina is naturally a slightly acidic environment. This is due to a bacteria called lactobacilli. Lactobacilli produce lactic acid and the resulting acidity prevents other bacteria from growing inside the vagina. Women presenting with bacterial vaginosis tend to lack sufficient numbers of lactobacilli, which means the vagina isn’t acidic enough to prevent other bacteria from growing. It’s this imbalance of bacteria that causes BV.
It is not clear what exactly causes the imbalance that results in bacteria vaginosis, although certain factors are known to increase the chances of developing BV. These include:
- Being sexually active. Especially if you have a new or multiple sexual partners.
- Using an intrauterine device such as a contraceptive that fits inside the womb.
- Using scented soaps, bubble baths or antiseptic bath liquids.
- Using vaginal deodorants.
- Using a strong detergent to wash your underwear.
Generally, bacterial vaginosis isn’t considered a sexually transmitted infection as the condition can sometimes occur in women who aren’t sexually active. Also, the rates of BV are significantly varied within different ethnic groups, which cannot be explained by sexual activity alone. However, it is apparent that occurrences of bacterial vaginosis are much higher in women who are sexually active, especially in those with multiple partners. In contrast, the rates of BV are lower in women who practice safe sex. From this it is safe to conclude that sexual activity can play a role in developing bacterial vaginosis, although other unrelated factors are also probably responsible for the condition.