Among the more common health complaints experienced by women is bacterial vaginosis. This harmless infection of the vagina can be both distressing and embarrassing for sufferers, yet this needn’t be the case as it’s both easily treatable and can mostly be avoided with some simple prevention methods.
What are the symptoms?
Some or all of the following symptoms may be present and can appear in any order:
- A burning sensation during urination
- Itching of the vagina
- A gray or white discharge which may be of a watery consistency
- An unpleasant fishy smell coming from the vagina
- Fever, which may range from low-grade to severe
However, not all women experience symptoms at all and may only discover they have the infection when they attend a sexual health clinic for a check-up or other reasons.
How is it diagnosed?
When someone attends a sexual health clinic or GP surgery with concerns about any of the listed symptoms, the practitioner will talk through identified symptoms and ask the patient about a checklist of others to get a bigger picture. However, it may be necessary for a vaginal examination to take place and, possibly, for a swab to be taken using a cotton bud to confirm the diagnosis and eliminate other possibilities. Neither the examination nor the swab is likely to be painful.
What is the treatment?
Once the practitioner is satisfied that bacterial vaginosis is the problem, they will prescribe an antibiotic treatment, generally metronidazole, which can be administered in several forms including small tablets which are taken over the course of several days, a larger single-dose tablet and a gel. The health professional is likely to discuss options with the patient to arrive at the most efficient solution for that person.
Antibiotic treatment has been shown to be very effective when used as advised, which means that the gel must be applied as directed and, in the case of tablets, the course must be finished. As with many antibiotics, no alcohol should be consumed until the treatment has ended, to avoid reducing the efficacy of the prescription and increasing the risk of side effects.
What are the best prevention methods?
The body, including the vagina, naturally contains bacteria to help it function effectively. Problems arise when the balance of that bacteria is altered, and the environment of the vagina becomes more hospitable to those bacteria which are potentially harmful. To avoid this, women should:
- Use plain soap for cleansing the vagina rather than harsh or perfumed products
- Take showers instead of baths
- Don’t smoke, as this is one of the factors that alter the balance of bacteria throughout the body
As this shows, bacterial vaginosis can be prevented and treated easily. Health professionals see the problem frequently and view it as any physical problem, so nobody should endure the pain and discomfort of the condition due to embarrassment.