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Risk factors of bacterial vaginosis and how to avoid it

Did you know that douching, vaginal deodorants and scented soaps can wreck havoc with your vagina's bacterial balance and lead to bacterial vaginosis.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a type of inflammation in the vagina due to overgrowth of normally present bacteria in the vagina. Women with BV develop a temporary shortage of lactobacilli in their vagina. Lactobacilli are the lactic acid-producing bacteria which maintain acidic pH in the vagina. Once lactobacilli are lesser in number, there s overgrowth of other types of bacteria in the vagina due to which your vagina s pH balance gets upset. BV most commonly affects women between the ages of 15-44 and can make you more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections.

Dr Duru Shah, scientific director, Gynaecworld says the signs and symptoms of BV include thin and greyish vaginal discharge that has a watery consistency and fishy odour, other than vaginal itching and burning during urination. While these symptoms could also indicate that you re suffering from a sexually transmitted infection, your doctor will examine your vagina and test the vaginal discharge for an over-growth of bacteria. Microscopic examination of vaginal discharge may reveal clue cells,' which are vaginal cells covered with bacteria, and are typically seen in BV. Also, the level of acidity (pH) of the vagina may give a clue about BV diagnosis. If the pH of the vagina is found to be more than 4.5, it is an indication that you have BV, says Dr Shah.

She further adds that there are various risk factors which increase your chances of developing BV and these include:

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Unprotected sexual intercourse, especially with multiple or new partners

Use of a contraceptive coil/loop or what is more commonly known as intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD)

Frequent vaginal douching, vaginal deodorants, scented soaps and bubble baths

Smoking

It is important to consult your gynaecologist if you have any of these symptoms especially during pregnancy because bacterial vaginosis is not uncommon in pregnant women. In fact, Dr Shah says, studies suggest that untreated BV during pregnancy may lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, premature rupture/breakage and infection of pregnancy sac (amniotic sac), and infection of womb lining after delivery, which is also known as postpartum endometritis.

How to avoid or prevent bacterial vaginosis?

To minimize vaginal irritation, avoid the use of hot tubs and bubble bath. You should avoid douching the vagina after normal bathing, as this changes the normal growth of good bacteria in your vagina, and may increase your risk of getting a vaginal infection. Use of unscented soaps, tampons, pads and deodorants decreases the chances of BV. Consistent and correct use of condoms and limiting number of sexual partners is another way of preventing BV.

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