Bacterial infections of the vagina are common in both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women. As bacterial vaginitis is even more common than are yeast infections in women of childbearing age, bacterial vaginitis represents the most common type of vaginitis in pre-menopausal women.
In a bacterial infection of the vagina (a condition called bacterial vaginitis or bacterial vaginosis), an imbalance of healthy types of bacteria in the vagina leads to certain types of bacteria (such as gardenerella) growing on the mucous membranes (lining) of the vagina, and inflammation of the mucous membranes of the vagina. Scientists and physicians believe that any of the following conditions can contribute to overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina and bacterial vaginitis:[1-3]
Lack of proper pH (ratio of acidity to alkalinity) of the vagina. Eating candies, pies, or other pastries) by a woman of any age can disturb the proper pH and can increase inflammation in various parts of the body, including the vagina. In addition, insufficient levels of sex hormones after menopause can disturb the proper pH of the vagina.
Use of commercial douches and/or vaginal deodorants, either of which can reduce the amount of healthy bacteria (including Lactobacillus) in the vagina
Use of antibiotics (which can reduce the amount of healthy bacteria such as Lactobacillus in the vagina) to prevent and/or treat infections elsewhere in the body
Wearing tight clothes and fabrics that prevent air circulation in the pelvic area
Dryness (from less secretion of normal mucus in the vaginal lining) and fragility of the vaginal lining, due to insufficient levels of estrogen after menopause
Current use of birth control pills (which contain the hormones, estrogen and progesterone) can make the vaginal lining more susceptible to infections.
Current use of an intrauterine device for birth control
Having unprotected vaginal intercourse with new or multiple sexual partners, which increases the risk of new types of bacteria (including, but not restricted to, organisms causing sexually transmitted diseases) entering the vagina
Use of a vibrator as a sex toy. If a vibrator is used inside the vagina, it can introduce bacteria into the vagina, as well as irritating the lining of the vagina and making the vaginal lining more vulnerable to the growth of bacteria
Cigarette smoking, which is associated with a statistically higher risk of bacterial vaginitis
Also, alternative medicine physicians believe that an unbalanced energy system (i.e., vital force) of the body can lead to bacterial infections of the vagina.
Some women experience occasional bacterial vaginitis, whether other women experience frequent (i.e., recurrent) bacterial vaginitis. Approximately 30% of women treated for bacterial vaginitis experience recurrence of the condition within 3 months.
Symptoms of bacterial infections of the vagina may include:[1, 2]
Itching of the vagina
Sensation of burning in the vagina
Other sensations of irritation of the vagina
Other types of vaginal pain
Redness or raw appearance of the inner part of the vaginal lips and the lining of the vagina
Swelling of the vulva (vaginal area), vaginal lips, and/or lining of the vagina
Watery or creamy appearing discharge from the vagina
Grayish- or yellowish-green-colored discharge from the vagina
Odorless or unpleasant-smelling (including fishy-smelling) discharge from the vagina
If you are experiencing vaginitis, or if you think that you have a bacterial infection, consult your integrative medical physician or gynecologist. Diagnosis of a bacterial infection of the vagina involves:
Looking at a sample of the vaginal discharge under the microscope
A culture (i.e.., taking a sample of the vaginal discharge and culturing the microbes in it to determine which types are present)
Many ways to prevent, manage, and treat bacterial infections of the vagina are available. See our Q&A called Treatment of Bacterial Infections of the Vagina.
1. L. Streicher. Bacterial vaginosis presents vexing problems. Chicago SunTimes. 09/05.
2. J. Reichenberg-Ullman. Whole Woman Homeopathy. 2004. Edmonds, WA: Picnic Point Press.
3. I. Ikenze. Menopause & Homeopathy: A Guide for Women in Midlife. 1998. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.