Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
What other infections have symptoms similar to bacterial vaginosis?
Lisa Oldson, MD on August 9, 2011
To know for sure what may be causing the itching, occasional pain and white discharge I encourage you to visit your doctor. Your doctor can help you by performing the right tests to find out the cause of your issue. In the meantime I’m happy to offer you some thoughts for your consideration...
The symptoms of genital itching, pain and discharge are associated with a number of infections including bacterial vaginosis (BV), yeast infection or an STD. Let me describe these possible infections more in depth...
Many women experience recurring bacterial vaginosis (BV) infections. The bacteria Gardnerella vaginalis with which you were previously diagnosed is one of the bacteria associated with BV. Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria in the vagina (anaerobic bacteria are bacteria that live only in liquid, not in the presence of oxygen). And BV often recurs...about 30% of women who get better from treatment have a recurrence within three months, and more than 50% of women have a recurrence of symptoms within a year. So you may want to check with your doctor to find out if you need another round of treatment for BV.
Yeast infections can also cause symptoms similar to bacterial vaginosis. And sometimes taking antibiotics (like those for a vaginal infection) can change the normal balance of healthy organisms in the vagina...causing a yeast infection.
Women who have a yeast infection might experience itching of the vulva, pain with urination, pain during sex, or redness or irritation of the vulva and vagina. Some women also describe their discharge as being white and clumpy, but it can also be thin and watery. Although yeast infections are easily treatable with antifungal medicines, it’s important to visit a doctor for a diagnosis. Research shows us that most women don’t self diagnose vaginal infections accurately – it’s best to visit your physician to ensure the right diagnosis and the right medication.
STDs can also cause abnormal discharge, itching and/or genital pain. Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease with symptoms similar to BV and yeast infections. Several other STDs also cause vaginal itching. The only way to know if you have an STD is to get tested. Talk to your doctor about testing or find a reputable online testing facility to get tested for STDs. Some of the most common STDs you may want to consider include chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and HIV. Once you know your STD status you can start treatment, if necessary, and help avoid serious health problems down the road.
Also, to help avoid problems with infections and STDs, I encourage you to practice safer sex. You indicated that you don’t always use a condom when you have sex. Using dental dams or condoms each and every time you have oral sex, and condoms for anal or vaginal sex is the only way to protect yourself from catching or spreading STDs or related infections. Practicing safer sex is especially important if you have multiple partners, or if you have a new sexual partner. (Having new and/or multiple sex partners does increase your risk for STDs and bacterial vaginosis.)
For more information about STD risk factors, symptoms, complications, testing and treatment, see ourExpert Guide to STD Basics. Thanks again for writing, and I hope you’re completely healthy again soon.
Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.