So. I think super worth talking about the difference between yeast infections and BV. They are both pretty miserable vaginal infections that have to do with the imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. They feel quite similar (itchy and uncomfortable vagina), but they are slightly different. BV is actually even more prevalent than yeast infections — with vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina) being caused by BV 40-50% of the time and yeast infections 20-25% . And P.S. (this is truly horrific), you can actually have BOTH at the same time (although this is less common).
The main difference in symptoms is in the type of discharge. Yeast infections create a thick, white, “cottage-cheese” (I know, EW) discharge. BV creates a thin gray, yellow, or even green discharge. The discharge can be fishy smelling. Yes. So gross. I know.
What’s interesting though, is that apparently half of people who have BV don’t actually know they have it, since they don’t experience symptoms. I know that has never been the case for me personally, but good for them, I guess? Almost like HPV it sounds like in terms of being symptom-less.
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of BACTERIA. Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of FUNGUS. If we’re getting technical, experts believe that the bacteria that gets out of control is the Gardnerella bacteria for BV, and the fungus that goes crazy is Candida albicans for yeast infections.
The difference between a bacteria and a fungus is pretty nuanced, TBH.
Risk factors are honestly also nuanced and multivariate. I know that the standard narrative that doctors will say around yeast infections is that they’re caused by stress (like everything), high-sugar diets, and warm, wet environments (why doctors will tell you to not hang out in sweaty gym clothes or swimsuits).
Both BV and yeast infections can be caused by recent antibiotic use. Which is interesting as well because the typical treatment for BV is an antibiotic. Have definitely personally seen that the antibiotic prescribed to clear up BV can then CAUSE a yeast infection, creating a really vicious cycle. Yikes!
Here are some other differences in risk factors:
- High estrogen levels (why you see a spike in infections before your period)
- Use of hormonal contraceptives (related to the increase in estrogen levels)
- High blood sugar (can be driven by dietary sugar consumption (including carbohydrates, alcohol, not just dessert)
- Suppressed immune system
Some other factors which are less relevant to most women are pregnancy and uncontrolled diabetes.
- Hormonal changes (due to things like menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause)
- Multiple or new sex partners
- IUD use
- Natural lack of Lactobactillus bacteria (the healthy kind of bacteria that you need to maintain a healthy vaginal pH)
- Having sex without protection (condom, dental dam). Basically, fluid exchange can trigger this.
Vaginal douching and cigarette smoking also can contribute.
I’ve written before about typical treatments for yeast infections. You can read more about that here, if you like. TLDR is that it’s usually a prescription antifungal pill or cream. The creams are available OTC, but honestly, are messy and not super effective.
Bacterial vaginosis, on the other hand, is treated by a prescription antibiotic pill or gel. There aren’t any widely available or recommended OTC treatments available. The ones I’ve been prescribed in the past are Flagyl (Metronidazole) and Clindamycin (Cleocin). Docs will give you a 5-7 day course of these bad boys.
Anyway, in my experience, neither of these options are particularly effective for treating recurrent yeast infections or BV. And there isn’t a lot of information on alternatives out there. So…that’s why we’re here. Another, more in-depth on this post coming soon 🙂