Vaginal Odor
and Bacterial Vaginosis

Vaginal odor or a fishy smell coming from the vagina can be symptoms of yeast vaginitis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis (Trich), or bacterial vaginitis (BV). The most widely used treatment for the characteristic greyish white vaginal discharge, itching, burning, smelly foul odour is antibiotics but natural remedies can be used as well.

Before venturing out and treating yourself for any of these conditions, it is best to first see a knowledgeable doctor who can give an accurate diagnosis of what is going wrong with your body.

A doctor needs to determine if you have a vaginal yeast infection, sexually transmitted disease, or bacterial vaginosis. In the case of yeast infections, normally the vaginal discharge is not a fish smell or foul vaginal odor as in bacterial vaginosis. This is one of the distinguishing traits that sets BV apart from yeast infections but still the other symptoms are quite similar and very hard for a woman to determine what she has. That's why if this is your first experience with unusual vaginal symptoms you should seek the advice of a physician.

Who Can Get BV?

Any female can get Bacterial Vaginosis. In fact in can be a recurrent condition. Doctors do not consider it a sexually transmitted disease, but keep in mind that anything that alters your vagina pH and takes it out of the normal range between 3.5 - 4.5 can cause unpleasant symptoms such as vaginal odor. Even women who have not had sex can get BV. Some health professionals believe frequently changing sexual partners can increase the chances of having BV. The foul odor is said to increase after sex.

What is Bacterial Vaginosis?

BV is a condition where there is an overgrowth of the bacteria gardnerella vaginalis and anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that lives in the absence of oxygen) that normally live in the vagina while at the same time, "good" bacteria called lactobacilli, the dominant vaginal flora, has decreased. In other words, there is too much "bad" or mixed flora/bacteria in the vagina. BV is the most common reason for unusual vaginal odor and discharge. Many women mistake BV for yeast infections because the symptoms are similar. If BV goes on for too long with out being treated it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Risk Factors for BV

The cause of BV is currently unknown in the medical world but some of the risk factors include:

  • Multiple sex partners
  • Lack of sufficient vaginal lactobacilli bacteria
  • Frequent douching
  • Certain birth control methods such as intrauterine device (IUD)
  • How Do You Test for BV?

    Bacterial Vaginosis is a clinical diagnosis that requires at least 3 of the following features (1) vaginal pH > 4.5; (2) thin, watery, fishy-smelling discharge; (3) wet-mount showing > 20% clue cells, and (4) positive "amine" odor test (performed by adding 10% potassium hydroxide to a drop of vaginal discharge on a slide and smelling the distinctive odor that results from the release of volatilized amines (Marisa R. Nucci, MD and Esther Oliva, MD p. 78)

    To find out more about pH levels and vaginal infection tests you can go to the page titled Yeast Infection Test

    BV and Pregnancy

    Bacterial vaginosis is associated with ectopic pregnancy, low-birth weight babies, and premature babies. For this reason, pregnant women are encouraged to test for BV. About 1 in 5 pregnant women will test positive for BV and the usual course of treatment by doctors is antibiotics although there is some controversy among experts regarding antibiotic treatment and how it may harm the unborn fetus.

    It is also known that antibiotics cause other negative reactions such as vaginal yeast infections. The goal of antibiotic use is to kill the unwanted microorganisms but it also kills the good bacteria the body needs to function properly and fight off sickness.

    Natural Treatment
    for Bacterial Vaginosis

    The antibiotics usually prescribed for vaginal odor are either taken orally or as a cream that is inserted into the vagina. Common antibiotics prescribed include:

  • cleocin also called clindamycin
  • tinidazole also called tindamax
  • metronidazole also called flagyl

    These antibiotics can cause other conditions such as yeast infections and the symptoms can often reoccur. Natural treatments to permanently alleviate the fishy smell and discharge are refrigerated Lactobacillus probiotics that will once again restore the vaginal flora with dominant lactobacilli bacteria. The probiotic needs to be in the billions. Each morning orally take a mixed probiotic of L. acidophilus, L. Rheuteri, and L. Rhamnosus. These are the strains of lactobacilli that may work best. You may even try applying the mixture directly in the vagina. A good quality probiotic will be refrigerated and usually in brown bottles. They can be found at places like Whole Foods or specialty/health food stores.

    Everyone is different and therefore each remedy for vaginal odor will vary. Some people need to completely change their diet and cut out all sugar, milk, bread, and flour from their diet as well as taking probiotics.

    Some women have success by doing a hydrogen peroxide flush by mixing peroxide with water and inserting that inside the vagina for a few days at a time. As a note, douching is not recommended but can be temporarily used to treat an infection. Other supportive methods include taking 800mcg folic acid in the morning and then take 400mcg of folic acid at night.

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