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Bacterial vaginosis: When you wash yourself when you don't have to

C. A. V. Nogueira, M.D. |
Bacterial vaginosis is a type of vaginal inflammation caused by bacteria, a new sex partner or - widely spread and totally unhealthy hygiene practices.

Everything in our body needs to be in balance for it to work without a problem, and when that balance is upset that's the start of unwelcome health conditions or diseases.

That's stands true for our intimate parts.

There are lactobacilli (good) and anaerobes (bad) bacteria in your vagina. If there are more good bacteria than bad, that's a good news.

But if something happens and there are too many bad bacteria, that puts the ration of microorganisms in your vagina out of balance and we have bacterial vaginosis.

Although it mostly appears in women in their reproductive years, it can affect women of any age.

Now, what's the cause?

We don't understand completely why, but we know what are the risk factors and that can help with a prevention.

The first risk factor is a new sex partner or multiple sex partners.

While common sense tells us that having multiple sex partners may increase the risk because the woman doesn't always know the health condition of her partner, it's not quite clear why the risk is present with a new sex partner.

While we are at partners, bacterial vaginosis also occurs more frequently in women who have sex with other women.

The second risk is natural lack of lactobacilli bacteria. If the body doesn't produce enough of the good bacteria, bad prevail and it's more likely that bacterial vaginosis will appear.

The third risk factor is very interesting. It is douching.

This is the practice of rinsing out your vagina with water or a cleansing fluid (douching). You can buy vaginal douches at pharmacies and supermarkets and they are mixes of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine. Douches are available at pharmacies and supermarkets.

The theory is that douching cleans the vagina, prevents pregnancy, prevents infections, and keep the vagina clean. That goes back to days when the belief was that rinsing the vagina with Coke after sex will prevent pregnancy.

A little bit of common sense tells us that washing the vagina from the inside will not prevent pregnancy and indeed douching can only cause problems and doctors strongly advise against it.

Talking about Coke, it's not very wise to let CO2 and air coming into place where it wasn't supposed to be.

Talking about modern "cleaning" agents, douching leads to an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria and that leads to bacterial vaginosis.

The point is the vagina is self-cleaning organ and it doesn't need our help to be clean inside.

Bacterial vaginosis symptoms may include: vaginal itching; burning during urination; "fishy" vaginal odor; and gray, white or green vaginal discharge. However, many women with bacterial vaginosis have no symptoms.

In general, bacterial vaginosis doesn't cause complications. But that's in general.

It may lead to preterm birth, sexually transmitted infections, pelvic inflammatory disease that can increase the risk of infertility, and infection risk if the woman must undergo gynecologic surgery.

So, when to see the doctor?

First, if you see vaginal discharge you never saw before, a visit to the doctor is a good thing to see what's going on.

If you had vaginal infections before but the color of your discharge is different now, this is for the doctor to look at.

If you have a new sex partner - or, obviously, multiple sex partners - it's good to see the doctor anyway to take a look because some symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection are similar to those of bacterial vaginosis.

If you try to treat a yeast infection yourself with something you bought at the supermarket and your symptoms persist, again the doctor is a better option.

How can you prevent bacterial vaginosis? It's easy.

Use mild soaps without deodorant and unscented tampons or pads. Don't douche. Again: Don't douche. Period.

Your vagina doesn't require cleansing other than normal bathing. When having sex, let your partner use condom, limit the number of sex partner, and know your partner well before sex.

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