Causes and Cures for Bacterial Vaginitis
Bacterial vaginitis is a condition that occurs in the vagina and causes irritation, inflammation and vaginal itching. Mainly caused by the three most common vaginal infections and diseases, vaginitis affects many women of childbearing age each year. As many as 75% of adult women will report an incidence of vaginitis in their lifetimes.
Some of the most common causes of bacterial vaginitis bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection and trichomoniasis.
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an imbalance in the naturally occurring bacteria normally present in the vaginal tract. Under normal circumstances, there is an equal distribution of good bacteria (lactobacilli) and bad bacteria (anaerobes) in the vagina. Vaginosis is a result of an overgrowth of bad bacteria that overtake the good bacteria and cause infection.
Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis
Many women who contract bacterial vaginosis will not exhibit symptoms. Others will experience a strong, fishy odor accompanied by vaginal discharge. The discharge is usually white in color, but is sometimes grayish and thin. Most women will notice this increase in discharge immediately following sexual intercourse.
Bacterial vaginosis, in and of itself, is not a life-threatning condition. However, it can be indicative of a woman’s tendency to be susceptible to more serious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Women who are diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis have a higher chance of developing these infections than women who are uninfected.
Risk Factors for Bacterial Vaginosis
There are several risk factors that cause a woman to be susceptible to contracting bacterial vaginosis.
A woman who has had bacterial vaginosis in the past is most likely at risk for recurrence
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- New or multiple sexual partners
- Cigarette smoking
- Vaginal douching
Other activities that introduce foreign bacterial into the vaginal tract put a woman at risk for developing this condition. Bacterial vaginosis is not commonly thought to be sexually transmitted, although sexual activity can present an added risk factor. Bacterial vaginosis may also develop in women who have never been sexually active.
Lifestyle changes are most effective in preventing incidences of bacterial vaginosis. The following behaviors help prevent bacterial vaginosis.
- Rinsing the vaginal area with clean water after bathing prevents the introduction of irritants into the vagina.
- Wearing cotton underwear instead of synthetic fabrics protects the vaginal area and allows breathability.
- Wiping from front to back after a bowel movement will avoid transferring feces into the vagina.
- Avoiding douching, which has the tendency to upset the ph balance in the vaginal tract.
Tests and Diagnosis
The first step in diagnosing bacterial vaginosis is ruling out other causes for the symptoms. When a woman is exhibiting indications of bacterial vaginosis, her doctor will usually ask a series of questions to eliminate other possible causes for the symptoms. The doctor will perform a pelvic exam and take a sample of the vaginal or cervical fluid. During the exam, the doctor will check the cervix and ovaries for tenderness, which could indicate a more serious problem. The doctor may also check for sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia or gonorrhea infection.
Samples of the vaginal secretions may be sent to an outside lab to examined by microscope. These tests can differentiate bacterial vaginosis from other conditions such as trichomoniasis and yeast vaginitis. An unusual vaginal cell, referred to a clue cell, when seen under a microscope, is a clear indicator of bacterial vaginosis. In addition to the clue cell, the lack of adequate lactobacilli (normal vaginal bacteria) is a strong indication that the woman is indeed suffering from bacterial vaginosis.
In addition, a “whiff test” may be performed. In a whiff test, several drops of potassium chloride (KOH) are added to the vaginal fluid sample to test for the presence of the bacteria. If a strong fishy odor is produced by the chemical, it is an indication that bacterial vaginosis is present.
There are several options available to treat bacterial vaginosis. Treatment of bacterial vaginosis usually includes a round of antibiotics. The most commonly prescribed antibiotic treatment is a seven-day course of metronidazole (Flagyl), taken orally or by internal vaginal gel suppositories (Metrogel). Vaginal suppositories usually do not carry any side effects. However, the oral antibiotic metronidazole has been associated with the following adverse side effects:
- Metallic taste in mouth
A number of herbal and home remedies are commonly used to treat the symptoms and ease the discomfort of bacterial vaginosis. Since bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial infection, it will not usually go away on its own, and doctors strongly recommend only using herbal remedies as a supplement to a course of antibiotics. The most common herbal and home remedies used to ease the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis are:
Applying a sterile, cold cloth to the labial area eases the irritation and soreness of the outer vaginal area.
Tea Tree Oil
Noted for its strong antimicrobial properties, tea tree oil is used both externally and internally to treat bacterial vaginosis. Some women use tea tree soaked tampons, douches and suppositories. Others use tea tree oil externally, adding to a sitz bath with apple cider and pure vinegar.
Many sufferers swear by the strong antibacterial properties of garlic to treat bacterial vaginosis. Garlic has been known to fight infection by enhancing cell immunity and inhibiting bacteria and other microorganisms. Garlic produces a compound called Allicin that produces antibacterial activity. Allicin is released when garlic is crushed or cut. Women who use garlic to treat bacterial vaginosis insert cloves of garlic wrapped in gauze into the vagina to treat the symptoms and ward off the overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Complications of Bacterial Vaginosis
Recurrence of bacterial vaginosis after treatment is common, and occurs in about 50% of cases. However, if symptoms do not reappear, no further treatment is necessary.
Bacterial vaginosis has serious indications when found in pregnant women. Left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can cause infection of the amniotic fluid, premature birth, premature labor and infection of the uterus both during and after the pregnancy. Currently, testing for bacterial vaginosis is not commonly performed in pregnant women unless there is a history of preterm births, or if the woman is exhibiting symptoms.
Yeast infection is another main cause of bacterial vaginitis in women. Common to women of childbearing age, about 75% of women will experience a yeast infection in their lifetime.
Yeast, scientifically referred to as Candida, is commonly found on the body in places of moisture such as the vagina, rectum, underarms and mouth. Most healthy women have a small amount of yeast in the body at any given time. A yeast infection occurs when there is an overgrowth of the bacteria Candida Albicans in the vaginal tract and vulva.
Common symptoms of yeast infections include irritation and itching in the vagina, redness or inflammation of the outer labial area and increased vaginal discharge that is white in color and has a cottage cheese texture. Usually there is no odor associated with the vaginal discharge that occurs in a yeast infection. Other symptoms may include burning during urination, pain during sexual intercourse, a rash in the genital area and soreness of the vagina.
Risk Factors for Yeast Infection
Several risk factors make developing yeast infection more likely.
The use of antibiotics, birth control pills or steroids upset the balance of bacterial flora in the vaginal tract, allowing yeast to grow to dangerous levels and cause infection.
Weakened Immune Function
Stress, lack of sleep and poor diet can weaken the immune system and make the body more susceptible to infection. Some diseases, such as diabetes, lupus and HIV/AIDS infections have been known to cause recurring yeast infections.
Certain behaviors make developing a yeast infection more likely. These include wearing tight or poorly ventilated clothing, such as wet swimsuits or athletic clothing for extended periods of time, wiping from back to front following a bowel movement and vaginal douching which destroys healthy bacteria in the vagina.
The most effective ways to prevent yeast infections are behavioral in nature. Certain steps can be taken to minimize the chance of developing a yeast infection.
Wearing underwear with breathable, natural fabrics. Exposing the vulva to air on a regular basis also helps in eliminating the moist environment that yeast requires to thrive.
Switching to a non-hormonal contraceptive. Yeast thrives in the acidic pH found in the hormone estrogen. The high levels of the hormone estrogen in birth control pills and pregnant women make yeast infection more likely. Switching to a non-hormonal birth control method will reduce the chance of developing a yeast infection.
Tests and Diagnosis
The first step in diagnosis is determining whether the woman’s symptoms are indicative of a yeast infection or another condition. The doctor will ask a series of questions relating to lifestyle and general health to determine if the symptoms could be caused by other factors. The doctor will perform a pelvic exam and collect samples of the vaginal secretions. These tests determine whether the woman is suffering from a bacterial infection, such as bacterial vaginosis or a protozoan infection, such as trichomoniasis. A pap smear may also be performed to rule out any cervical abnormalities that may be causing the symptoms. During the pelvic examination, the doctor will visually examine the vagina to check for swelling, discharge, sores or vaginal tenderness.
The most common treatment option for vaginal yeast infections is over-the-counter, non-prescription treatments. Products such as vaginal yeast infection creams and suppositories usually clear up the infection in 75%-95% of cases.
It is important that a woman seeking an over-the-counter remedy be properly diagnosed with the condition. Using a yeast infection treatment when no infection is present can lead to an increased likelihood that a yeast infection will develop at a later time, and be resistant to treatment.
There are several natural and herbal remedies commonly used to treat yeast infection.
Also called “friendly bacteria,” the use of probiotics involves introducing the necessary lactobacilli (good bacteria) that are outnumbered in yeast infections. The friendly bacteria flood the vaginal and intestinal tract, so there is no room for yeast and harmful bacteria to thrive. Probiotics come in capsule form, and can be purchased at health food and vitamin stores.
The probiotic most often taken for yeast infection contains 100 billion CFU (colony forming units), and are taken twice daily for one week or until the infection is cleared. Probiotics are not known to have adverse side effects. Any extra that body does not need will be passed from the body from the stool.
Commonly used as a colon cleanser, Psyllium husk has been used for centuries to rid the body of toxins and harmful bacteria. Psyllium husk is a high-fiber supplement that absorbs water and forms a gel within the body. It forces waste matter from the body and cleans the colon. Cleaning the colon has been shown as effective in ridding the body of candida infection.
Used as an insecticide and a fire retardant, boric acid has been known to be effective in relieving the symptoms associated with yeast infection. When mixed with water, boric acid is a mild antiseptic with a low acid content. It has been used for years to treat inflammation, irritation, cuts and scrapes.
Boric acid has also been used to cleanse wounds and speed healing. When used to treat yeast infections, boric acid can soothe the skin and help restore the vagina’s healthy alkaline pH factor. Since boric acid only serves to ease the discomfort, it should only be used in conjunction with other methods of curing the infection.
Many women swear by yogurt as a natural cure for yeast infections. Non-sweetened yogurt that contains live acidophilus has active cultures that restore the balance of natural bacteria in the vagina. Eating 4-6 ounces of live culture, non-sweetened yogurt has been known to clear up vaginal yeast infections within several days.
In addition to eating yogurt, it can be used in suppository form to speed up the healing process. Inserting a tampon dipped in yogurt into the vagina delivers the active cultures directly into the vaginal tract. The tampon should be left in the vagina for one hour, then removed.
Complications of Yeast Infection
Most yeast infections respond well to treatment and do not carry long-term complications. However, women with suppressed immune systems should take candida infections seriously, as they can be indicative of a more serious, underlying issue.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease, caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. Also known as trich, the disease infects both men and women, attacking the urinary tract in men and the vagina in women. The organism latches on to the tissue walls of the vagina, this causes the inflammation and subsequent infection. Men usually do not exhibit symptoms of trichomoniasis, although some will experience burning after urination and ejaculation, mild discharge, or an irritation in the penis.
Trichomoniasis is usually contracted through unprotected vaginal intercourse, but can also be transmitted through vulva-to-vulva intercourse, mutual masturbation and sharing infected sex toys.
Symptoms of Trichomoniasis
Symptoms of trichomoniasis usually include strong vaginal odor, frothy yellow-green vaginal discharge, and discomfort during intercourse. They may also experience itching and soreness of the vaginal area, and in rare cases, lower abdominal pain.
Risk Factors for Trichomoniasis
Since trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease, the risk factors for developing this form of bacterial vaginitis have a strong correlation with sexual activity. Risk factors include:
- ·Having multiple sex partners
- ·Having gonorrhea or non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU)
- ·Engaging in sexual activity during adolescence
Prevention of Trichomoniasis
There are effective ways to prevent contracting the bacterial vaginitis associated with trichomoniasis.
- ·Wearing condoms during sexual intercourse to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases
- ·Limiting the number of sexual partners
- ·Getting tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases and infections
Tests and Diagnosis
Diagnosing trichomoniasis is relatively simple. The doctor will perform a pelvic exam and take a swab of the vaginal fluid. This fluid will be sent to a laboratory to be tested under a microscope and cultured for several days. This testing will determine if the trichomoniasis parasite is present.
Treatment for trichomoniasis is similar to other treatments of bacterial vaginitis. A seven-day course of antibiotics is often prescribed to clear up the infection and relieve the symptoms. The most commonly prescribed antibiotic is Metronidazole, either in oral or suppository form. Sexual intercourse should be avoided during the time of treatment.
Several natural and herbal treatments have been shown effective in restoring the body’s health after infection, and may be effective in treating trichomoniasis and its symptoms.
A powerful, immune-boosting herb, Echinacea has been shown to fight off parasitic infection in the intestinal tract. Many swear by a daily course of Echinacea to ward off trichomoniasis.
Best known for its liver-support properties, milk thistle is effective in removing toxins from the body.
Vitamin E and A
When used topically, vitamins A and E have been known to soothe and repair inflamed and irritated skin associated with trichomoniasis.
Complications of Trichomoniasis
Left untreated, trichomoniasis can cause serious health problems. Symptoms will gradually get worse, and the infection can cause permanent organ and tissue damage. Prolonged infection with trich can lead to inflammation of the fallopian tubes and eventual infertility. People with trichomoniasis are five times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
In pregnant women, a trich infection is most associated with preterm birth, preterm premature rupturing of membranes (PPROM) and low birth weight. In rare cases, the parasite can be passed along to the baby during delivery.