Bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections are two types of vaginitis that are common in women. However, while some of the symptoms of these two gynecological disorders may seem very similar, they have very different causes and require different methods of treatment. If you've never had bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection before, it's best to consult with your doctor.
About Bacterial Vaginosis
According to the National Women's Health Information Center, bacterial vaginosis or "BV" is a common infection in women who are in their child-bearing years. Bacteria that are both helpful and harmful live in the vagina, and women note no problems when both of these are in balance. However, when the number of harmful bacteria increase in number, bacterial vaginosis can occur. Any woman can get bacterial vaginosis, but certain factors put women at risk, including having multiple sex partners (or a new partner), frequent douching, use of an intrauterine device (IUD) and not using a condom during sex.
About Yeast Infections
Yeast infections occur when a fungus called Candida albicans--which is normally present in the vagina in small amounts--increases in number to the extent that symptoms arise. Around 75 percent of women get at least one yeast infection during their lifetimes, making them very common. However, there are factors that increase the risk of yeast infection. These may include hormonal changes due to pregnancy or menopause, certain medications (such as antibiotics, steroids and birth control pills) and a weakened immune system.
Both bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections can result in similar symptoms. These include itching, burning and irritation of the vaginal and surrounding area. Women may also note that they experience a burning sensation when they urinate.
Both bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections can cause vaginal discharge. The discharge associated with a yeast infection is typically thick, white and chunky and can be described as having the appearance of cottage cheese. It may also have a yeasty odor. On the other hand, the vaginal discharge associated with bacterial vaginosis is thinner and usually gray, white or clear. It's typically more malodorous or "fishy" and may be more prevalent after sexual intercourse.
Once properly diagnosed, yeast infections can be efficiently treated using over-the-counter antifungal creams, suppositories and tablets that come in one-, three- and seven-day regimens. However, treating bacterial vaginosis requires a prescription for metronidazole or clindamycin, which are antibiotics. These disparate methods of treatment underscore the importance of getting an accurate diagnosis for your condition. If you're unsure if you have a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, seek your doctor's advice.