If you notice unusual vaginal discharge with a fishy smell during your menstrual cycle, it may be because you have bacterial vaginosis.
Various factors can contribute to the development of vaginal infection. Find out what these are, how bacterial vaginosis is treated and why it poses special risks for pregnant women.
The most important facts about bacterial vaginosis at a glance:
- If the vaginal flora gets out of balance, the spread of harmful bacteria can cause bacterial vaginosis.
- Risk factors for vaginal infection include unprotected sexual intercourse and mistakes in intimate hygiene.
- Bacterial vaginosis is most noticeable in women through vaginal discharge with a fishy smell.
- Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics, which can be tablets, creams or suppositories.
- During pregnancy, bacterial vaginosis is associated with special risks for the mother and the unborn child.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
There are many bacteria in the vagina. This is completely normal. They form the so-called vaginal flora there and ensure an acidic vaginal environment. This is important to prevent the spread of pathogens.
The vaginal flora can be brought out of balance by various external influences. This leads to increased growth of harmful bacteria and then eventually to contracting bacterial vaginosis.
Causes: what causes bacterial vaginosis?
The exact causes of bacterial vaginosis are still unclear. However, there are a number of factors that can increase the risk of harmful bacteria spreading.
Some of the factors that may be the cause of bacterial vaginosis include:
- Frequent sexual intercourse with changing partners
- Lack of oestrogen
- Too much or too little intimate hygiene
- Use of inappropriate skin care products
- Bleeding during pregnancy
- Taking antibiotics
- Excessive stress
Symptoms: how do you recognise bacterial vaginosis?
In many women, bacterial vaginosis does not cause any symptoms. The main possible symptoms of vaginal infection include a greyish or whitish vaginal discharge.
The discharge usually has an unpleasant, fishy smell, which in many cases is particularly strong during menstruation or after sexual intercourse.
In individual cases, women with bacterial vaginosis may also experience pain when urinating or having sex. Symptoms such as itching or redness in the intimate area, however, do not usually occur.
How is bacterial vaginosis diagnosed?
If there is a possibility of bacterial vaginosis, women should contact their gynaecologist promptly. The gynaecologist can carry out the necessary examinations for a diagnosis and find out whether it is actually a bacterial infection or perhaps an infection with vaginal fungus.
In addition to a medical history and a general examination of the intimate area, a vaginal swab is necessary to diagnose the bacterial vaginal infection.
How is bacterial vaginosis treated?
If bacterial vaginosis is asymptomatic or cannot be diagnosed without doubt, treatment is usually not necessary. However, pregnant women and women who are going to have gynaecological surgery are treated regardless of whether they have symptoms.
Because it is a bacterial infection, bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics. Either tablets, suppositories or creams containing antibiotics are used.
Treatment usually lasts between one day and one week. It is important to follow the gynaecologist's instructions. If the treatment is stopped too early, there is a risk that the antibiotics will not work properly and the infection will persist.
How useful are alternative treatments?
There are several alternative treatments to help with bacterial vaginosis. These include live lactic acid bacteria, which are used after antibiotic treatment.
In addition, some women use natural products such as lemon water and tea tree oil. This is to maintain the acidic vaginal environment. Whether this or the administration of lactic acid bacteria actually does anything has not yet been scientifically proven beyond doubt.
What is the prognosis for women with bacterial vaginosis?
Basically, bacterial vaginosis can be treated quite well. However, many women get a new infection after a few months, despite successful treatment.
What are the consequences of bacterial vaginosis?
Although bacterial vaginosis itself is usually quite harmless and sometimes does not even cause any significant symptoms, the infection should not simply be ignored.
Without treatment, the bacteria can spread. This can lead to further problems. The possible consequences of the vaginal infection then include, for example, inflammation of the fallopian tubes, the lining of the uterus and the cervix.
In addition, women with bacterial vaginosis are also more susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhoea or chlamydia. A visit to the gynaecologist is therefore strongly recommended in case of suspicion.
Bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy
Bacterial vaginosis is associated with special risks for women during pregnancy. The bacteria can rise from the vagina and cause dangerous infections in the mother and child, among other things.
In addition, bacterial vaginosis in pregnant women can, for example:
- Premature labour and premature rupture of the membranes
- and disturbances in the healing of wounds after a caesarean section
- and increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth.
To avoid possible complications, pregnant women should therefore definitely seek advice from their gynaecologist on the subject of bacterial vaginosis. Corresponding examinations are usually also part of the preventive check-ups during pregnancy.
Prevention: how can bacterial vaginosis be prevented?
Getting bacterial vaginosis is not completely preventable. However, there are some things women can do to reduce the risk of infection.
Some of the things you can do to prevent bacterial vaginosis include the following:
- The use of condoms is advisable to reduce the risk of contracting the disease, especially when having sex with frequently changing partners.
- Avoiding excessive stress can also have a positive effect on the vaginal flora.
- Avoiding vaginal douches helps to prevent unnecessary stress on the vaginal flora.
- It is best to clean the intimate area with clear water or pH-neutral care products.
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