What is Bacterial Vaginitis?

Bacterial Vaginosis is More Common in Senior Women

TEM of Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria
Moredun Scientific Ltd / Getty Images

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common type of bacterial vaginitis and is more common in older women than in women of childbearing years. It is also known as nonspecific vaginitis or Gardnerella-associated vaginitis.

Nearly half of the women with clinical signs of BV report no symptoms. However, if you're asymptomatic you can still suffer from health complications. If you do have symptoms, you're likely to experience: 

  • an abnormal, odorous vaginal discharge
  • a fish-like odor, which is noticeable especially after intercourse

Sometimes people erroneously use the terms bacterial vaginosis and a yeast infection interchangeably, when they are actually two distinctly different conditions with different symptoms.

The Cause of Bacterial Vaginosis

BV reflects a change in the vaginal ecosystem. This imbalance, including pH changes, occurs when different types of bacteria outnumber the normal ones.

Instead of Lactobacillus bacteria being the most numerous, increased numbers of organisms such as Gardnerella vaginalis, Bacteroides, Mobiluncus , and Mycoplasma hominis are found in the vaginas of women with BV.

Investigators are studying the role that each of these microbes may play in causing BV. 

Why Is Bacterial Vaginosis More Common for Senior Women?

BV is more common for senior women because of menopause. It's just easier for bacteria to enter the subepithelial tissues of your vagina because the vaginal mucus has thinned, as the result of less estrogen in your body.

Bacterial Vaginosis Treatment

Once diagnosed, your health care worker will inform you about the possibility of sexual transmission and offer treatment. Usually, you will receive a prescription for antibiotics, such as metronidazole or clindamycin. 

Complications of Untreated Bacterial Vaginosis

Complications of untreated bacterial vaginosis depend on your age because most of them are related to pregnancy, including premature delivery and low-birth-weight infants.


The complications of untreated bacterial vaginosis are so serious for women of child-bearing years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends doctors test all pregnant women for BV who previously delivered a premature baby, whether or not the women have symptoms.

Vaginal Yeast Infections

Vaginal yeast infection or vulvovaginal candidiasis is a common cause of vaginal irritation and has some symptoms similar to BV. Doctors estimate that approximately 75 percent of all women will experience at least one symptomatic yeast infection during their lifetimes.

Yeast is always present in the vagina in small numbers, and symptoms only appear with overgrowth. Factors associated with increased risk for a yeast infection include:

  • uncontrolled diabetes mellitus
  • antibiotics
  • douches, perfumed feminine hygiene sprays
  • topical antimicrobial agents
  • wearing tight, poorly ventilated clothing and underwear

Yeast Infection Symptoms

Odor and discharge are the most common symptoms of BV, but not a yeast infection. 

The most frequent symptoms of yeast infection in women are:

  • itching, burning, and irritation of the vagina
  • painful urination
  • discomfort during intercourse 

Vaginal discharge is not always present when you have a yeast infection and may be minimal.

The thick, whitish-gray discharge is typically described as cottage-cheese-like in nature, although it can vary from watery to thick in consistency. 

Other Causes of Vaginal Infections

BV and yeast are some of the most common causes of vaginal infections. Other causes include: 

  • allergic and irritative factors, such as spermicides, vaginal hygiene products, detergents, and fabric softeners
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • trichomoniasis

Source: Medscape: Gynecologic Assessment of the Elderly Patient (2007)

Continue Reading