Understanding Vaginal Symptoms and Decoding the Management Trends

Understanding Vaginal Symptoms and Decoding the Management Trends

Ageless Care: Why Vaginal Health Matters?

Have you ever experienced an unusual discharge or a musty scent from your vagina? Well, these are the usual symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, a common problem that affects about 23-29% of women worldwide.1
The vagina is a crucial part of the female reproductive system, playing a role in sexual activity, periods, pregnancy, and childbirth. Functioning as a self-cleaning organ, the vagina hosts 50 diverse species of microbes.
These microbes in vagina can undergo swift changes, often for reasons not entirely understood. Such changes may result in infections or a condition where harmful organisms coexist with other beneficial ones.2

Taking good care of your vaginal involves fostering balance and harmony in this intimate environment. Therefore, it is important for all women irrespective of age to prioritise vaginal health to prevent issues related to fertility and sexual well-being.

This blog is here to guide women on understanding what causes, the symptoms of, and how to prevent and manage bacterial vaginosis. It also covers the role of probiotics and other steps in handling and preventing this condition.

Unwinding the Enigma of Bacterial Vaginosis: Causes and Associations

The exact cause of bacterial vaginosis is still a mystery to researchers. However, the condition is often seen in women who are sexually active. Activities like douching, unprotected sex, and being with new or multiple partners can upset the usual bacterial balance, increasing the risk of developing this condition.3
In heterosexual women, non-coital sexual behaviours, including receptive oral sex, anal sex, and non-penetrative digito-genital contact, have been identified as factors associated with an heightened risk of acquiring bacterial vaginosis.4
Importantly, women who have not engaged in vaginal, oral, or anal sex can still be affected by bacterial vaginosis (18.8%), as well as pregnant women (25%) and those who have been pregnant at any point (31.7%).5

Identifying Signs and Symptoms

Bacterial vaginosis symptoms often includes the following:
  • unusual vaginal discharge, often thin and light grey or white
  • a distinct fishy or musty odour emanating from the vagina
  • vaginal itching or irritation
  • burning sensation during urination
While it is a common and generally less severe condition, if left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can result in complications such as problems during pregnancy (spontaneous abortion and preterm delivery), an elevated risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and the development of pelvic inflammatory disease.

Management

While there are many home remedies for vaginal infections, you must consult a gynaecologist if you experience symptoms persisting for more than a week.
Bacterial vaginosis treatment involves a course of antibiotics, either in tablet form or applied as a cream or gel into the vagina. You will need to complete the entire antibiotic course, even if symptoms improve before the end as stopping treatment early could raise the risk of the infection returning.6
Certain home remedies based on research for bacterial vaginosis include:
  • Garlic supplements: A randomised controlled clinical trial in 2014 suggested that garlic tablets and oral metronidazole had similar effects in treating bacterial vaginosis.7
  • Boric Acid: A study proposed that adding intravaginal boric acid to antibiotic medications could be beneficial in treating both bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection.8
  • Probiotics: A meta-analysis found that using probiotics alone was more effective for both short- and long-term treatment of bacterial vaginosis. However, using probiotics after antibiotics was effective only in the short term.9
Apart from the mentioned remedies, the last sections of this blog will discuss incorporating safe sexual practices and adopting healthy measures to enhance your vaginal health.

Probiotics - A Saviour to Revitalise Your Vaginal Health

A ‘healthy’ vaginal microbiome is thought to be one where Lactobacillus spp. dominates, making the vagina more acidic and protecting against harmful invaders. When Lactobacillus is lacking, it is linked to problems like preterm birth, bacterial vaginosis, and a higher risk of sexually transmitted infections.10
Fortunately, probiotic preparations have been demonstrated to be a secure alternative for restoring the microbiological balance of the female reproductive tract and are generally well-received by women with vaginal infections.11
Probiotics refer to live microorganisms intended to offer health benefits when consumed or applied to the body, with the most common types belonging to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium groups.12
Although medications are commonly used to treat vaginal infections, the risk of them coming back or becoming chronic remains due to their negative impact on the natural lactobacilli. Probiotics and prebiotics have shown the ability to help optimise, maintain, and restore the vaginal microflora.13

How to Improve Your Vaginal Health?

Ensuring proper care for your vagina can significantly enhance your reproductive health. Maintaining the health of your vagina aligns with the practices that contribute to overall well-being—consistent hygiene and a nutritious diet. Below are some simple and effective tips:14
  • Gentle Cleaning Practices: Use your hands to clean your vulva and prefer mild soaps. Pat your genitals dry after washing.
  • Skin Protection: Apply a bland barrier cream if irritation occurs or to shield against moisture-induced irritation. Avoid using clothes or sponges for cleaning.
  • Fragrance-Free Care: Steer clear of fragrant or irritating soaps. Refrain from using ‘feminine’ sprays, perfumes, and deodorants on your vulva.
  • Clothing: Choose cotton underwear for breathability. Change out of sweaty clothing promptly, especially after sports. Consider going without underwear while sleeping.
  • Toileting and Menstruation Etiquette: Wipe from front to back on the toilet. Avoid using sanitary pads or panty liners unless menstruating.
  • Sexual Health Practices: Use water-based glycerine lubricants.
  • STD Tests: Undergo regular checks for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) annually or before changing partners.
  • Vaccination: Get vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Sexual Activity: Abstain from sexual activity until any genital irritation has subsided.
  • Hair Removal and Genital Piercings Guidelines: Use a fresh razor for each shaving session. Wash with mild soap and water before and after shaving. Consult with a doctor before considering a genital piercing. Avoid sharing razors and getting piercings from unqualified practitioners.

The Bottom Line

In many places, talking about vaginal health is often hushed or misunderstood, even though many women globally face vaginal symptoms.
Bacterial vaginosis is the leading cause of these vaginal symptoms. While it is treatable, rare complications can arise. Therefore, it is crucial for all women to maintain proper hygiene and practise safe sex to prevent it.
Despite various researched home remedies, probiotics emerge as highly effective, with studies suggesting they can also prevent bacterial vaginosis. However, if you experience any vaginal symptoms, seeking help from a gynaecologist is essential.

1.https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/bacterial-vaginosis

2. Cribby S, Taylor M, Reid G. Vaginal microbiota and the use of probiotics. Interdiscip Perspect Infect Dis. 2008;2008:256490. doi: 10.1155/2008/256490. Epub 2009 Mar 29. PMID: 19343185; PMCID: PMC2662373 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19343185/

3. https://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/stdfact-bacterial-vaginosis.htm#:~:text=BV%20is%20a%20result%20of,know%20how%20sex%20causes%20BV.

4. Verstraelen, H., Verhelst, R., Vaneechoutte, M. et al. The epidemiology of bacterial vaginosis in relation to sexual behaviour. BMC Infect Dis 10, 81 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2334-10-81

5. https://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/stats.htm#:~:text=Women%20who%20have%20not%20had,lifetime%20number%20of%20sexual%20partners.

6. https://www.jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/vulva-vagina/vulval-vaginal-conditions/bacterial-vaginosis#when-to-see-your-doctor

7. Mohammadzadeh F, Dolatian M, Jorjani M, Alavi Majd H, Borumandnia N. Comparing the therapeutic effects of garlic tablet and oral metronidazole on bacterial vaginosis: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2014 Jul;16(7):e19118. doi: 10.5812/ircmj.19118. Epub 2014 Jul 5. PMID: 25237588; PMCID: PMC4166107. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4166107/#A19118R30

8. Powell A, Ghanem KG, Rogers L, Zinalabedini A, Brotman RM, Zenilman J, Tuddenham S. Clinicians’ use of Intravaginal Boric Acid Maintenance Therapy for Recurrent Vulvovaginal Candidiasis and Bacterial Vaginosis. Sex Transm Dis. 2019 Dec;46(12):810–812. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0000000000001063. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6878170/

9. Wang Z, He Y, Zheng Y. Probiotics for the Treatment of Bacterial Vaginosis: A Meta-Analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Oct 12;16(20):3859. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16203859. PMID: 31614736; PMCID: PMC6848925. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6848925/

10. Holdcroft AM, Ireland DJ, Payne MS. The Vaginal Microbiome in Health and Disease-What Role Do Common Intimate Hygiene Practices Play? Microorganisms. 2023 Jan 23;11(2):298. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms11020298. PMID: 36838262; PMCID: PMC9959050. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36838262/

11. Marrazzo JM, Cook RL, Wiesenfeld HC, Murray PJ, Busse B, Krohn M, Hillier SL. Women's satisfaction with an intravaginal Lactobacillus capsule for the treatment of bacterial vaginosis. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2006 Nov;15(9):1053-60. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2006.15.1053. PMID: 17125424. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17125424/

12. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know#:~:text=Probiotics%20may%20contain%20a%20variety,probiotics%20may%20have%20different%20effects.

13. Mashatan N, Heidari R, Altafi M, Amini A, Ommati MM, Hashemzaei M. Probiotics in vaginal health. Pathog Dis. 2023 Jan 17;81:ftad012. doi: 10.1093/femspd/ftad012. Erratum in: Pathog Dis. 2023 Jan 17;81: PMID: 37286796. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37286796/#:~:text=Probiotics%20and%20prebiotics%20have%20shown,and%20thus%20promote%20consumers'%20health.

14. https://www.thewomens.org.au/health-information/vulva-vagina/your-vulva-vagina/how-can-i-stay-healthy-down-there

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Comments (1)

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