Many conditions can lead to vaginal inflammation resulting in itching, burning sensation, abnormal discharge, and foul odor. While bacterial vaginosis vs. yeast infection is often confused, they are very different in their cause, symptoms, treatment, and prevention.
When an imbalance in the vaginal flora is caused by bacteria overgrowth, it is commonly called bacterial vaginosis. On the other hand, yeast infections are usually attributed to many fungus species known as Candida albicans.
Many women think that the two conditions are similar, requiring antifungal treatment. It's a wrong idea as yeast infections can be easily treated with over-the-counter creams and vaginal suppositories. In addition, most women confuse bacterial vaginosis symptoms with those of sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea. It should not be the case as bacterial vaginosis does not cause pelvic inflammatory diseases.
What Is a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis?
It is caused by an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the vagina. Bacterial vaginosis generally does not affect a woman's health. It is considered a normal reaction of the body to maintain vaginal health. This condition can be seen in women who have had unprotected sex with multiple partners and those who have diabetes. Bacterial vaginosis also occurs due to using an intrauterine device (IUD). In addition, these vaginal infections are common in women who wear tight and synthetic undergarments and those using scented soaps and body washes.
Although yeast infections are not categorized as STIs, they may lead to complications of the reproductive system if not treated. The condition is commonly caused by excessive fungus in the vagina. Most of the time, this fungus is Candida albicans which naturally lives in healthy intimate areas of women. When there is an overgrowth or imbalance of this fungus, yeast infection is the result. According to leading experts, women with bacterial vaginosis are more at risk of getting a yeast infection than those who do not have bacterial vaginosis.
Bacterial Vaginosis vs. Yeast Infection Symptoms
Vaginal yeast infection vs. bacterial vaginosis symptoms are often hard to distinguish. However, there are particular symptoms that women can look for to determine the type of infectious process that is affecting their intimate areas.
This condition is not commonly detectable with symptoms. However, in most cases, its symptoms are similar to that of sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. These symptoms include:
- The vaginal burning sensation is caused by the acidic pH level in the vagina
- Muscular pain in the lower abdomen
- Lower back pain during menstruation
- Cloudy, grey, or white thin vaginal discharge
- Fishy odor in genitalia, especially during intercourse
- Vaginal itching. However, this symptom is not always present in some women. Also, it is often seen that bacterial vaginosis symptoms are confused with those of sexually transmitted diseases.
Although yeast infections are often asymptomatic, there are some signs that women can look out for to detect yeast infection vs. bacterial vaginosis symptoms. These symptoms vary from mild yeast infection to moderate. They include:
- Vaginal itching
- Burning sensation in the vaginal opening
- Mild to severe pain during sexual intercourse
- Itching and irritation in the external genitalia
- Dull, constant ache in lower abdomen or backache. The intensity of this pain increases during menstruation. Usually, there is no fever present. However, it may occur if the infection spreads to the fallopian tubes and ovaries.
The moderate symptoms of yeast infections such as mild to severe pain and swelling in the vaginal area, backache, and ache in the lower abdomen can also be seen when women suffer from bacterial vaginosis. Hence, it is often hard for you to determine the exact type of infection they have contracted.
Causes and Risk Factors
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an imbalance in the number of bacteria found inside the vagina. This microbe shift leads to uncomfortable symptoms. There are several risk factors associated with bacterial vaginosis, including:
- Sexual intercourse without using a condom
- Having multiple sex partners
- Using certain feminine hygiene products
- A weakened immune system
- Antibiotic use
Every year, more than three million women are diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis in the United States. However, the number of cases is rising quickly because people often do not notice symptoms early enough to seek treatment. Bacterial vaginosis is not harmful to the body unless it spreads throughout the vagina, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
A yeast infection is caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina. The resulting symptoms can include itching, burning, thick white discharge, or vaginal odor accompanied by pain during sex or urination. Rarely, yeast infections may be related to diabetes, weak immune systems, or medications.
The exact cause of yeast infection is unknown, although several risk factors increase the likelihood of getting a yeast infection, including:
- Sexual intercourse with a male partner who has had many other sexual partners or whose sexual health status is otherwise unclear
- Using antibiotics or birth control pills
- Diabetic women who experience frequent yeast infections
- Women with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS and those receiving cancer treatments.
As more bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection cases are diagnosed each year, it is essential to be aware of the symptoms so that these conditions can be treated as early as possible.
Although it is not curable, you can treat bv with antibiotics or bacterial vaginosis home remedies. It will prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body.
Standard treatment options include:
- A seven-day course of antibiotics used either orally or applied directly inside the vagina.
- The doctor may give prescription medication like vaginal gels or creams containing either metronidazole or clindamycin to insert one time directly into the vagina.
Yeast infections are typically treated with antifungal creams or suppositories inserted directly into the vagina.
Some women choose to use home remedies like plain yogurt inserted into the vagina daily to help fight off the yeast infection.
Antibiotics, such as metronidazole (Flagyl), can be given in pill or cream form. It's advisable to discuss all treatment options with a doctor to determine the best course of action. The doctor may also help determine if birth control pills could cause repeated yeast infections.
Antifungal medications are used to treat vaginal yeast infections. These medications can be applied inside the vagina or taken by mouth. It is also a good idea to use non-soap cleansers on your body and change your underwear, bathing suit, and bed linens often.
If symptoms of a yeast infection persist for more than two weeks or worsen, it is recommended to seek immediate medical attention. The medication for vaginal infection include:
Clotrimazole- Can either be inserted into the vagina or taken orally. This medication may improve symptoms within a few days, depending on the severity of the infection.
Miconazole: Available as an over-the-counter vaginal cream to treat yeast infections and is also available as a prescription pill for those who cannot tolerate creams.
How Can You Tell the Difference Between BV and a Yeast Infection?
It can be challenging to tell the difference between yeast infection vs. bacterial vaginosis, especially in women who have had more than one yeast infection.
One of the most effective ways to distinguish between the two conditions is their symptoms. Bacterial vaginosis has a foul fishy odor and the other symptoms, while yeast infections do not.
BV also causes vaginal itching and burning, while yeast infections do not.
However, both conditions can co-occur since different microorganisms cause them.
One way to make an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible is to schedule a visit with your healthcare provider, as they will be able to recommend the best course of action for treating your symptoms.
If you're still unsure, take a home pregnancy test as this can also be a sign of either condition and distinguish between the two.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is an infection caused by bacteria, and A yeast fungus causes yeast Infection (YI). Bacterial vaginosis is characterized by a grayish-white discharge that looks like cottage cheese. It can also cause burning during urination, itching around the outside of the vagina, and an unpleasant fishy smell.
Yeast Infection has no distinct odor but causes itching and irritation of the vaginal area and pain to relieve pressure (usually accompanied by a thick, white discharge that resembles cottage cheese).
Does BV Go Away on Its Own?
Vaginitis (Bacterial Vaginosis) often goes away on its own within three months of treatment, but some women may experience symptoms again later. You can prevent it by taking antibiotics. However, if you have had more than four recurrences in a year, see your doctor make sure you don't have an underlying health issue.
Taking your medicines as prescribed is essential, but it's up to you to reduce your risks of an infection in the future. Here are a few tips for preventing vaginitis:
Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothing. Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays or douches. Cleanse from front to back after using the bathroom.
With many ways to distinguish between BV and YI, it is essential to consider symptoms and treatment options to make an accurate diagnosis. Once the condition has been diagnosed, it is critical to carefully follow the doctor's instructions to avoid contracting the same infection again.
If you are looking for more information on medications available to treat yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, make an appointment with your primary care provider or OBGYN today.
If left untreated, bv and yeast infections can pose a severe health risk for women of childbearing age. If ignored, symptoms may be powerful enough to cause infertility problems down the road.
Bacterial vaginosis is not life-threatening; however, it does increase the chance of contracting an STD such as HIV. There are effective treatment methods available, so you should not put off getting the help you need. It will help reduce your suffering and lower your chance of contracting an STD or infertility problems later in life.