The Difference Between a Yeast Infection and Bacterial Vaginosis

Both a vaginal yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis or BV are very common female health problems, though of the two BV is the most common. But women often think when they begin to have symptoms of a vaginal infection that they have a yeast infection when in actual fact it is BV. The symptoms in both vaginal infections are very similar which is one of the reasons why seeing a doctor is so important. This article will explain what a yeast infection and BV are, what the similarities are and what the differences are to help identify what vaginal infection you may have.

Vaginal Yeast Infection
A candida yeast infection is caused by the overgrowth of a fungus that preexisted in you called Candida Albicans. Causes vary but include being diabetic, prolonged courses of antibiotics, weak immune system, malnutrition, hormone fluctuations such as pregnancy. Symptoms vary from case to case but include itching, burning, pain during sex, a white lumpy discharge, no odor or a yeasty smell. Treatment involves anti-fungal medications whether over the counter or stronger ones prescribed by a doctor for more severe cases. There are also natural, home remedies to consider such as yogurt, tea tree oil and raw garlic. An anti-fungal treatment will be totally pointless if the infection is bacterial as with BV. In addition by using anti-fungal drugs you are helping the fungus develop a resistance to treatment, so when you do have a yeast infection it would be harder to treat.

Bacterial Vaginosis
As its name indicates BV is caused by bad bacteria. In the vagina when it is healthy and balanced are helpful bacteria called Lactobacillus. These keep the pH of the vagina a little acidic to ward off organisms that may be harmful. If ‘bad’ bacteria (Anaerobic) replace the Lactobacillus BV can occur. With it come symptoms of swelling and irritation, a white or yellowish discharge along with an unpleasant odor that is fishy. Sometimes there may also be itching. Again symptoms vary from woman to woman with some women having BV and presenting no symptoms at all and being unaware they have it. Treatment for BV is antibiotics, something which are the cause of yeast infections. So you can see being treated for one when you have the other can make the condition worse rather than better and can also leave you vulnerable to getting the other infection after.

A breakdown of the difference between a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis

Symptom Vaginal Yeast Infection Bacterial Vaginosis
Itching Yes Yes
Burning Yes Yes
White discharge like cottage cheese Yes No
Grey or yellowish discharge No Yes
Thin discharge No Yes
Swelling Yes Yes
Irritation Yes Yes
Fishy odor No Yes
Yeasty odor Yes No
Pain during sex Yes Yes
Pain when urinating Yes Yes

The easiest way to tell the difference between a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis is the odor. If you have a fishy strong odor this is not a yeast problem it is bacterial. However if there no odor then it is harder to tell which is why a visit to a doctor or woman’s health clinic is needed. To tell the difference a doctor can do a litmus test to check the pH of the vagina. There is a kit by Vagisil that also allows a woman to look at the pH of the vagina and this will help you tell the difference between a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis. A yeast infection does not change the pH of the vagina, whereas if it is BV the pH would be above 4.5.

Another difference between a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis is who it affects. Yeast infections can affect the really young in babies up to the elderly. BV however rarely affects women who have not yet had sexual intercourse or who are outside of the age able to bear children.

Both vaginal infections can be passed to sexual partners and then back again though neither are classed as STDs. Therefore if you have been sexually active with either, your partner or partners need to also get themselves diagnosed by a professional and then treated accordingly. Of course the symptoms are also common amongst some STDs and it could one of those rather than either a yeast infection or BV, so it is important to be sure.

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