Perfectly Balanced: The Causes and Effects of BV
What is BV?
BV (Bacterial Vaginosis) is a really common condition that is caused by an imbalance of pH levels. The vagina has a naturally low pH which means it is quite acidic, and this is due to the prevalence of certain kinds of healthy, acidic bacteria. If the balance of bacteria changes it can cause pH levels to rise and cause bacterial infection, resulting in discharge, smelly odour and discomfort.
It's not surprising that BV is often misdiagnosed as thrush since the symptoms are quite similar, but actually BV is almost twice as common as thrush. Thrush is a yeast infection in the vagina, whereas BV is a bacterial infection, so if you're accidentally using a thrush treatment when you actually have thrush you won't be fixing the problem. Usually you can tell whether it's thrush or BV depending on the odour; thrush can cause a discharge but this shouldn't be smelly. If you do notice an unpleasant or fishy odour it's more likely that you have BV. If you still feel unsure it may be worth trying a home thrush test kit; if you can rule out thrush you can be confident that BV is the problem.
A little dryness, discomfort and odour may not have a huge impact on your life, but there can be serious implications if BV is left untreated for long periods of time. It can contribute to conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease and endometriosis, both of which can lead to infertility. It can increase the risk of catching sexually transmitted diseases. Plus, if you're pregnant, it can cause premature labour, miscarriage or pre-eclampsia. So it's really important that you recognise the symptoms of BV and treat it properly before any serious complications develop.
So, what causes BV?
There are a number of contributions and most of them can be quite hard to avoid…
Periods. Yes, as if that time of the month wasn't annoying enough it can also send your pH levels a bit skew-whiff. This is partly due to your hormones going a little haywire, but it's also a result of tampons and sanitary towels, or intimate wipes, gels and sprays, causing an imbalance of good bacteria. If you tend to get symptoms of BV during your period it may be worth figuring out exactly what is causing it; you may need to stop using intimate wipes quite as often, or if you know that it's tampons that give you jip try a silicone menstrual cup instead.
Sex. More importantly, unprotected sex. This is due to semen being very alkaline and causing the pH levels of the vagina to rise, so if you tend to notice discomfort or odour after being intimate you may want to start using protection. Latex-free condoms are the best option as they are less likely to cause irritation, and you may want to switch to water-based lubes during sex or whilst using sex toys as they help to keep your natural pH levels balanced.
Contraception. The pill, coil and implant all work to alter your hormones which can have a knock-on effect on the production of bacteria in the vagina, and lead to increasing pH levels and BV. If you're prone to BV and think it could be down to the contraception you're taking go and have a chat with your doctor to see if there's something you can do to change it.
Pregnancy. Again, this is a result of changing hormone levels, but it's really important to stay BV free during pregnancy as it can cause miscarriage or premature labour. If you're prone to BV or think you have the symptoms of BV whilst pregnant go and have a chat with your doctor who will be able to advise you on the best ways to prevent it and treat it.
Hormone imbalance. This can be the result of having a hysterectomy or other vaginal surgery, or as a result of the menopause where hormone levels naturally change. You may find that you become more prone to BV, but as long as you recognise the symptoms and treat it properly you should be able to manage it well; if you're unsure have a chat with your GP.
Soap and shower gel. Although many people might associate bad odours down there with poor hygiene, you're actually more likely to develop BV if you're too clean. Soaps, shower gels and intimate wipes and sprays can disturb the natural pH levels in your intimate area, so if you do notice any unusual odours don't rush to the shower and start scrubbing. Instead treat the BV properly and then think about changing your hygiene routine. Avoid excessive washing and keep shower gels, shampoos and soap away from your intimate area.
How to Treat BV
If you think you have symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis there's no need to worry because BV treatment is as simple as applying gel to your bits. In the past doctors may have prescribed antibiotics to get rid of unhealthy bacteria, but often this simply unbalances bacteria levels even further and either worsens the problem or leads to thrush. Many women are therefore turning to over-the-counter BV treatments which are usually gels containing lactic acid to increase the acidity of the vagina.
Balance Activ is a popular BV solution. It is specially formulated to restore the natural pH levels of your vagina whilst neutralising odour and soothing discomfort. It contains lactic acid and will steadily increase the acidity of the vagina and lower the pH levels, leaving you perfectly balanced.
There are 2 different forms of Balance Activ treatment that you can choose from; both are as effective as each other in tackling BV but it simply depends on what feels right for you. Balance Activ Gel comes in small, disposable applicators which you gently insert inside your vagina and squeeze to get the gel exactly where your body needs it. Balance Activ Pessaries are small, bullet-shaped tablets that you insert just like a tampon, so that they gently melt with your body heat and deliver the same treatment as the gel.
Generally a 7-day course of Balance Activ will cure BV, but it can also help you to maintain healthy pH levels and is suitable to use regularly if you're prone to BV. Whenever you begin to feel symptoms or know that you are more likely to develop it, for example during your period, just start a course of Balance Activ to keep BV at bay.
If you feel like something is just not quite right down below, don't just ignore it and hope it will go away. Balance Activ is such a simple but effective treatment for BV and will get your body back to normal before you know it.