This common vaginal infection - often mistaken for thrush - recurs if not treated properly, health expert warns
Irish women are mistakenly self-diagnosing themselves as having thrush when in fact they may have a different type of recurring vaginal infection, an Irish gynaecologist has warned.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common yet poorly understood condition, in which the balance of bacteria inside the vagina becomes disrupted.
The main symptoms are vaginal discharge and odour, which are similar symptoms for thrush.
Dr Shirley McQuade, Medical Director of the Dublin’s Well Woman Centre said bacterial vaginosis is very common in Ireland.
“I talk about vaginal bacteriosis every single day; every day somebody has an issue with it.”
“It’s a very common condition, the problem is that it tends to be recurring as well. You don’t just take something once for it and it goes away, it comes back again.”
“A lot of women think automatically if they’ve got a discharge it must be thrush, and the first thing they do is go to a pharmacy and get something for thrush but it won’t solve the problem.”
“Bacterial vaginosis is an imbalance in the normal bacteria whereas thrush is a fungal infection, so they’re treated differently.”
The vagina is usually acidic, which discourages the growth of bad bacteria, but encourages good bacteria (lactobacillus) to thrive. If the pH balance drops, anaerobic bacteria has the opportunity to thrive, replacing the good bacteria.
In the US, one in ten women get bacterial vaginosis every year.
Tight-fitting pants like lycra gym pants and skinny jeans contribute to the problem, Dr McQuade said.
“There are things that people do to make it worse. It’s all to do with PH balance, it depends on trends in what people do.”
“The trend towards wearing lycra and tight clothes and spinning, anything that really increases the temperature in an area while not allowing it to breathe, won’t help.”
“Swimming sometimes can do it as well because it changes the PH balance. The rise in skinny jeans hasn’t helped. It’s about going back to basics and wearing cotton underwear and clothes that aren’t too tight.”
BV can usually be successfully treated using a short course of antibiotics and acidic PH gels.
Dr McQuade said: “We would take a swab test to see what’s going on. When people come in we screen people for STIs as well in case they haven’t been tested. Sometimes getting into a new relationship as well can spark VB, even if you use condoms, it can still happen.”
“In one of the studies from the States that I saw, they asked women to take swabs every day of the month, most women would have VB after the last day of their period, but most women’s bodies will resolve the problem on its own.”
She added: “We suggest that they use something to balance the PH, so we suggest they use something that’s slightly acidic like PH balancing acidic gels when the period is finished. If there’s a severe imbalance, we put them on antibiotics that would reduce it and then use the acidic PH gels.”