Bacterial Vaginosis; Diagnosis

Bacterial Vaginosis; Diagnosis

With many negative outcomes now linked to bacterial vaginosis (BV), it is important that women get tested and treated. Yet surveys find that the majority of health care professionals don’t routinely test for or treat BV. And yet BV is responsible for a significant number of vaginitis-related office visits, specifically, 17 to 19 percent in family planning or student health clinic visits, 24 to 37 percent in sexually transmitted disease clinics, and 10 to 35 percent among pregnant women.

The most common symptoms include a discharge and an unpleasant odor in the vagina. Women may easily mistake BV for a yeast infection, which is caused by the overgrowth of fungi called Candida albicans and has similar symptoms. However, BV requires a different treatment, so it is important you get an accurate diagnosis. Additionally, you may have more than one type of vaginitis at the same time, so having a “yeast infection” doesn’t mean you don’t have BV.

Fortunately, a trained health care professional can easily diagnose BV. All it takes is a test to check the level of acidity, or pH, in the vagina. A vaginal pH greater than 4.5 is one sign that you may have BV.

Your health care professional also will take a vaginal discharge specimen for examination under a microscope to look for “clue cells”–cells from the vaginal lining that are covered with bacteria. It is important not to douche or use deodorant sprays before a medical exam because these products can make it more difficult to diagnose BV.

In addition to checking the vaginal pH and checking for clue cells, your health care professional may place a drop of 10 percent potassium hydroxide on a vaginal fluid specimen and check the odor. Several commercial tests also are available to diagnose BV. Cultures for Gardnerella vaginalis and cervical Pap tests are not accurate methods for diagnosing BV.

The most common symptom of BV is a vaginal discharge similar in consistency and appearance to skim milk. The discharge caused by the infection often has a strong “fishy” odor that may become worse after sex because semen changes the acidic level of vaginal fluids. BV also may cause vaginal itching and irritation. About 50 to 75 percent of all women with BV experience no symptoms.


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Keywords: bacterial vaginosis, bv, yeast infection, symptoms, discharge, vaginal discharge

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