Gardnerella or bacterial vaginosis is an infection of the vagina caused by facultatively anaerobic, Gram-variable bacteria such as Gardnerella vaginalis, Gardnerella mobiluncus and Mycoplasma hominis. It was previously called non-specific vaginitis. Bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause of bacterial vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina) in a sexually active woman.
Certain factors that could predispose a woman to this infection are recent usage of antibiotics, douching, wearing an intrauterine device and decreased production of estrogen. Although gardnerella is not a sexually transmitted disease, it is connected to sexual activity.
8 Symptoms of Gardnerella
The first thing that one will notice if one has gardnerella infection is the fishy or musty odor emanating from the vagina or the vaginal secretions. The odor is stronger during periods and immediately after having sexual intercourse. This pungent odor is the major complaint that most women have.
Gardnerella infection causes profuse sticky white, yellow or grey vaginal discharge which is acidic and milk-like. It is a source of considerable distress to many women. It adheres to the vaginal mucosa. There could be small bubbles in the discharge, which is generally homogeneous.
Some women may feel an itchy sensation around the vaginal area. The itch appears to be outside the vagina. The intensity of the itch depends on the density of gardnerella bacteria in the vagina. Women may feel more itchy after having sexual intercourse or during their periods. However, this infection is usually non-irritating and non-inflammatory.
Rarely, a burning sensation or dysuria as it is medically called, may be felt in the vaginal area while urinating. The more the bacterial growth, the more the pain. But most women may not show this symptom at all!
Painful Sexual Intercourse
Unfortunately, having sexual intercourse can be a painful affair if one is suffering from this infection. Again, the more severe the infection, the more painful sex is.
Some women may also register some bleeding from the vagina as a result of the infection. This happens due to the imbalance caused in the vaginal environment. The overgrowth of anaerobic gardnerella bacteria upsets the normal acidic pH of the vagina.
Low level of lactobacilli
Lactobacilli are acidic bacteria that normally colonize the vagina. They produce a chemical called hydrogen peroxide, which helps to maintain the acidic environment of the vagina and prevents the growth of harmful micro-organisms. Gardnerella bacterial growth lowers the level of these beneficial bacteria in the vagina.
Altered Structure of Epithelial Cells
When the epithelial cells of the infected vagina are treated with physiological saline and observed underneath a microscope, they show a granulated appearance. This is clinical proof of Gardnerella infection.
Bacterial vaginosis may increase a woman’s risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). It may also make a woman prone to infertility. Ectopic pregnancies, premature births or low birth weight babies are a possibility.
Since Gardnerella infection destroys the protective acidic barrier of the vagina, the woman is also at a higher risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV, herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhea.
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