I don’t know about you, but I grew up believing that vaginas were supposed to smell like flowers and never have anything leaking out of them outside of menstruation. Girl, was I wrong. Now that I’m older and wiser, I know vaginal smells and discharge change frequently throughout the month. But it’s still hard to tell if a change is normal or if my intimate health needs further investigation.
One of the most misunderstood and frequently misdiagnosed vaginal changes is bacterial vaginosis, or BV. BV is a mild vaginal infection caused by an imbalance in the delicate microbiome that is your vagina. Many women often mistake it for a yeast infection, which can turn into a maddening recurrence because we treat the wrong thing.
This article breaks down what bacterial vaginosis is, some of the critical causes (including menopause), and what we can do to help avoid getting it.
What Exactly Is Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?
A healthy vagina hosts a beautiful microbiome of ‘good’ lactobacillus bacteria. These bacteria protect the vagina from harmful bacteria and yeast, potentially attaching to the vaginal walls. They do so by producing lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, killing any unwanted ‘bad’ bacteria.
BV occurs when the balance of bacteria in your vagina changes, allowing a higher quantity of harmful bacteria to take charge. Though healthcare experts can’t pinpoint the exact root cause of BV, they know some key factors that play a role in offsetting the bacterial balance in your vagina, including:
- Tissue Damage (caused by trauma like birth)
- Underlying Health Issues
- Tight Clothing and Synthetic Panties
- Irritating Products and Lotions
- Poor Hygiene
- Dietary and Exercise Habit Changes
- Friction During Vaginal Intercourse without Proper Lubrication
- Changes in pH
- Hormonal Changes (including perimenopause and menopause)
How Do I Know If I have BV?
Though some women with bacterial vaginosis have no symptoms or symptoms slight enough to ignore, some common symptoms include:
- Thin, gray, white, or green vaginal discharge
- Foul-smelling "fishy" vaginal odor; which may increase after vaginal intercourse
- Vaginal itching and burning, including around the labia
- Burning during urination, which may include frequent urination
Women most often associate increased vaginal discharge and irritation with yeast, which is why BV can be misdiagnosed. Two key differences that you may notice is the consistency of discharge and the odor. Yeast infections typically have a thicker, clumpier discharge, while BV can be very watery. Also, yeast smells like bread or beer, while BV has a very distinct odor that is fishy and unpleasant.
Can I Prevent BV?
Keeping vaginal flora balanced is essential when it comes to preventing BV. Make sure to maintain good hygiene habits while avoiding any products that may offset your vaginal pH. If you experience vaginal odor, don’t rush to use harmful products like douches. It’s better to opt for products that support a healthy pH balance and promote vaginal wellness, like our Intimate Care line.
Additionally, eat well, exercise frequently, and also welcome self-care practices that help manage stress. And don’t forget to pay attention to what happens in the bedroom. Your vagina should be well-lubricated during vaginal intercourse, and it helps to urinate after sex to flush out any bacteria that may have entered.
One thing to note: as we go through menopause, our vaginas change. Loss of progesterone and estrogen, coupled with atrophy that changes the structure and shape of our vagina, can increase our risk of inviting bad bacteria in. If you experience recurring BV, talk with your healthcare provider about ways to improve vaginal health.