What is non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis?
Non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis is the most common type of vaginal infection, representing 40-50% of all vaginal infections. The others are yeast (candida) and trichomonas infections.
What are the symptoms?
Between 50 and 75% of women who have non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis have no noticeable symptoms. For others, the most common symptoms are:
- Abundant, grayish or white discharge
- An unpleasant odour (“fishy” odour), which may be more noticeable after sexual intercourse and during menstruation
- A vaginal pH level over 4.5
Whereas other types of vaginal infections cause inflammation and irritation/itching of the vagina, non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis does not usually cause these symptoms.
How is non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis diagnosed?
If you suspect that you have a vaginal infection, it is recommended that you consult a healthcare professional to obtain an accurate diagnosis. He or she will be able to determine whether you have non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis using one of several simple tests:
- By examining the appearance and colour of vaginal secretions, collected using a cotton swab, under a microscope: normal secretions are generally white or clear, whereas in patients with non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis, they are often grayish, milky, thin and sometimes abundant
- By examining a sample of vaginal secretions under a microscope to detect the presence of bacteria (coccobacilli) adhering to the cells, indicating the presence of non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis
- By measuring the acidity of vaginal secretions using pH paper: patients with non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis will have a high pH level (>4.5) compared to the more acidic protective pH levels found in normal vaginal secretions
- By smelling vaginal secretions to determine whether they have an unpleasant (“fishy”) odour after adding a chemical agent called potassium hydroxide (KOH)
How to distinguish the various types of vaginal infections
Although non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis is the most common type of vaginal infection, representing between 40 and 50% of all cases, only a healthcare professional can confirm that it is not a yeast infection (candida) or Trichomoniasis (an STI), which require different treatments.
If you suspect that you have a vaginal infection, it is recommended that you consult a healthcare professional to confirm an accurate diagnosis. While you wait for your appointment, here is an overview of the symptoms of the most common types of vaginal infections:
|Non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis||Vulvovaginal Candidiasis (yeast infections)||Trichomoniasis|
|Itching / burning sensation||Sometimes||Usually||Always|
|Discharge/odour||Thin, milky, grayish-white, with a fishy odour||Thick, odorless, white (cottage cheese-like)||Excessive and foul-smelling; may be yellow or green and foamy|
|Causes||Bacteria||Yeast (Candida)||STI caused by the Trichomonas vaginalis protozoan parasite|
Causes of non-specific vaginitis/bacterial vaginosis
When the vaginal environment loses its acidity due to physiological or external factors, protective lactobacilli disappear and harmful bacteria (primarily Gardnerella vaginalis) multiply and become infectious.