Bacterial vaginosis, also known as BV, is twice as common as thrush, and as many as one third of women will experience it at some point, according to intimate health brand Balance Activ.
BV happens when the careful balance of vaginal bacteria is disrupted, often causing an unpleasant odor. However, around half of women with bacterial vaginosis don’t have any symptoms whatsoever. For the other half, many mistake their symptoms for thrush, leading to incorrect treatment and frustration when it keeps reoccurring.
We spoke to gynecologist Dr. Shazia Malik to find out the seven most common myths surrounding BV.
It’s the same as thrush.
“False. BV is a bacterial condition, unlike thrush, which is a yeast infection. It’s also twice as common as thrush, but very few women are aware of it, meaning more than 60 percent of them are misdiagnosing their symptoms as thrush. We don’t know exactly why this is. But the fact that thrush is so widely known and talked about means women are much more likely to think of thrush when experiencing abnormal vaginal symptoms.”
BV is a sexually transmitted illness.
“BV can indeed be triggered by sexual intercourse. This is because semen is alkaline and can affect the vaginal pH balance. However, BV is not an STI. There are also lots of other totally normal and common things that can disrupt the natural vaginal pH and trigger BV, like wearing tight clothing and thongs, heavy periods, hormonal changes, the coil, and even taking baths instead of showers.”
You can avoid BV by eating acidic food.
“There is no overt evidence that the foods we eat can impact our vaginal pH levels, but what we eat affects all of our body in one way or another. It therefore makes sense to eat a healthy and balanced diet for a healthier body, both inside and out.”
BV makes you itch.
“False again. While BV can cause occasional discomfort, intense itching or even a burning sensation is usually a symptom of thrush. The main symptom of BV is a thin, watery discharge that is often grey in color and can have a fishy odor, especially after sex or during a period.”
Anyone can get BV.
“Anyone with a vagina can get BV. In fact, at least one in three of us will experience BV at some point, but men cannot get it.”
You can clear up BV by washing your vulva more.
“This is wrong. In fact, over-washing can be a trigger – once a day is plenty. Douching is also a big no-no, as well as using perfumed soaps or antiseptic products as these could also upset the natural balance of the vagina.”
You have to take strong antibiotics to clear up BV.
“BV can sometimes clear up itself. However, if it doesn’t, then the mainstays of treatment are changing the vaginal pH back to being slightly acidic, increasing the number of healthy protective lactobacilli, and removing the overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria. This can be done using BV treatments available in pharmacies, usually in the form of a gel or pessary. However, if your symptoms persist, a course of antibiotics may be advised.”