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Bacterial Vaginal Infection - What Are The Causes?

The term vaginitis refers to an inflammation of the vagina that may cause irritation, discharge, odor, and/or itching. This condition can be caused by many factors, including a bacterial vaginal infection, hormonal changes, disease, medications, sexual intercourse, stress, or something as simple as an allergic reaction to detergent or lubricant. For this reason, it is important to see a doctor to diagnose the cause of your vaginitis.

There are three infections which are the most common: bacterial vaginosis, vaginal yeast infection, and trichomoniasis. While their symptoms are similar, their causes and treatment vary. The most common mistake is to confuse bacterial vaginosis with a yeast infection, and to self-diagnose and medicate with over-the-counter yeast medications.
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause of vaginitis.

As many as 50% of all cases are caused by this bacterial vaginal infection. Risk factors that increase the probability of contracting this condition include becoming pregnant, use of IUDs, frequent douching, increased sexual activity, and potentially a new sexual partner, or multiple sexual partners. However, you cannot get bacterial vaginosis from bedding (sheets, blankets, etc.), toilet seats, or swimming pools.

Vaginal yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of naturally-occuring fungi in the vagina. These yeast fungi are normally kept under control by your own natural bacteria, unless they are thrown out of balance by some other cause. The use of antibiotics often provokes a yeast infection, as antibiotics will destroy “good” protective bacteria along with the bad. Other risk factors include diabetes, a weakened immune system, use of birth control pills, hormonal changes (ovulation, pregnancy, menopause), use of steroids, and even such activities as use of douches and wearing tight or non-cotton underwear. It is estimated that nearly 75% of all adult women have had at least one yeast infection during their lifetime.

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a parasite. This infection usually affects the vagina, for women, and the urethra in men.

How do you know if you have a bacterial vaginal infection? While some vaginal discharge is normal, in varying amounts over the menstrual cycle, it normally is clear to white and has little to no odor. You should become concerned if the discharge acquires an abnormal color (such as green), has a strong, unpleasant odor, or drastically changes consistency or amount. Yeast infections can usually be identified by their “cottage cheese” consistency and whitish-gray color.

If you have a burning or itching sensation around the vagina or during urination, this is also a sign of some sort of infection.

However, as mentioned earlier, it is important not to self-diagnose. Undiagnosed or untreated infections can have serious effects on your fertility, among other things; especially in the case of yeast infections, which can spread to other parts and organs of the body, even causing life-threatening systemic infections. If you are showing symptoms of a vaginal infection, visit your doctor for the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

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