What Is Bacterial Vaginosis? Here's What You Should Ask Your OBGYN About The Infection

The female reproductive system has a lot going on 24/7, but how much of what’s going on down there are you actually aware of? Listen, I get it: When you meet with your OBGYN, you want the appointment to go as smoothly (and as quickly) as possible, right? So you go through annual procedures as per usual, only resolving the problems you’re experiencing in that moment. But your gyno is your number one resource to all things vagina-related, so it’s really important that you ask any questions that might be on your mind, like what is bacterial vaginosis (BV), and how should you go about treating it? Even if it's an issue you've never personally dealt with, you might want to bring this topic up if your OBGYN hasn't already talked you through the details, because this common bacterial infection can spiral into something a lot more serious if left untreated.

According to a national online survey, issued by Lupin Pharmaceuticals in partnership with the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) and the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health (NPWH), experiencing BV is almost as common as not knowing what this bacterial infection even is, or, even worse, what the infection can lead to if left untreated. The questionnaire’s findings were recently presented at the 21st Annual NPWH Premier Women’s Healthcare Conference in San Antonio, Texas, and showed that, while some gynecologists are talking to their patients about BV, many are only relaying the basic facts.

Brooke Faught, a nurse practitioner and clinical director of the Women's Institute for Sexual Health (WISH) in Nashville, Tennessee, said in a press release that one in every three women will experience BV at some point in their life, so not only is it vital that gynecologists talk to their patients about what BV is and where it comes from, but also “the significant risks associated with this most common gynecologic infection.”

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As is the case with any vaginal issue, it’s important that you start treating the symptoms of BV as early as possible. But how can you fix something you don’t even know is broken, right? If you aren’t sure what BV even is, Drs. Hedieh Asadi and Gunvor Ekman-Ordeberg, of DeoDoc Intimate Skincare, define bacterial vaginosis as a common vaginal condition that happens when good bacteria (or lactobacilli) is overpowered by bad bacteria. “Normally, the vagina is colonized by lactobacilli (good bacteria), which maintains a low pH and thus a certain protection against infections,” Asadi and Ekman-Ordeberg tell Elite Daily over email. And when there's an imbalance of good versus bad bacteria in the vagina, the doctors explain, that's when BV can develop.

A representative from ASHA tells Elite Daily that the most common symptoms of BV are things like “white or grey, [or] watery or foamy” discharge, and/or “a strong, fishy odor.” The problem is, the symptoms of BV tend to be pretty mild, if they even present at all. According to the medical director and vice president of Global Medical Affairs at Hologic, Edward Evantash, M.D., more often than not, BV occurs without symptoms, but when symptoms do occur, they're sometimes misdiagnosed as symptoms of “yeast, trichomonas, or even chlamydia infection,” he tells Elite Daily.

Obviously a bacterial infection is never an ideal situation down there, but here's where BV can cause even more of an issue: According to the survey results, if BV goes undiagnosed and, as a result, untreated, having bad bacteria trump the good bacteria in your vagina can potentially increase your risk of developing a sexually transmitted disease, though ASHA doesn’t classify the infection as a traditional STD. In other words, if you’re experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, or have had sex with a new partner recently, it’s definitely worth making a trip to the OBGYN to get tested.

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As far as treating BV goes, a representative from ASHA tells Elite Daily that even though the infection can go away on its own, it isn't worth the risk. Rather than taking your chances and trying to treat the infection by either waiting it out or with over the counter remedies, Evantash says it's best to talk to your doctor as soon as you start experiencing symptoms. From there, your physician can provide proper treatment, which, Evantash adds, will most likely include some kind of oral antibiotic or vaginal gel.

I realize it probably feels like I'm just adding yet another question to your list of things to interrogate your OBGYN about, but BV is no joke, no matter how common it is. Yes, it's your doctor's responsibility to be talking through the risk of BV with you, but you should also feel comfortable talking to your gyno about these very real issues, and the best way to start the conversation is to simply ask a question.