Common Vaginal Infections Mistaken For STDs
Bacterial Vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is caused by an imbalance of the normal bacteria in the vagina.
The most common symptom of bacterial vaginosis is an abnormal discharge that has a fishy odor. Other symptoms include:
- A foul-smelling discharge
- Discharge can be discolored – green, white, or gray
- Itching, burning and pain during urination or intercourse
- Bleeding after intercourse
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by too much bacteria that is naturally found in the vagina, thus upsetting the natural balance. Normally there is more good bacteria than there is bad. But too much anaerobic bacteria will upset your natural pH balance and cause bacterial vaginosis. Women who are still able to reproduce are more prone to BV, but it can affect older women too.
No one quite understands the root cause of bacterial vaginosis, but there are certain activities that can lead to it, like douching and unprotected sex. In many cases, women may experience no signs at all that they have bacterial vaginosis.
Talk To A Doctor If…
Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any new odor in your vagina, vaginal discharge, or fever. Even if you have had infections before, but the odor and color of discharge seems different this time, call your doctor. If you have any new sexual partners or multiple sex partners, it’s a good idea to get tested, as sometimes STD symptoms can look like bacterial vaginosis. You might have something more complicated than bacterial vaginosis.
Yeast infections, also known as candidiasis, are the most common vaginal infection. According to the Mayo Clinic, one out of every three women will experience a yeast infection at some point in their life.
Yeast infections occur when excessive amounts of Candida Albicans, a fungus that normally lives in your intestine and genital area, grow uncontrollably and invade your vagina. This causes an overgrowth of yeast cells which then releases toxic byproducts that irritate the vagina and cause symptoms like itching and irritation.
- Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a parasite, called Trichomonas vaginalis. It’s not as common an STI as chlamydia or gonorrhea, but it’s still very common in the United States—1 in 3 women will have at least one case of trichomoniasis in her lifetime.
- The symptoms for trichomoniasis are similar to those for many other types of vaginitis and STIs: itching or irritation, burning during urination, and a bad-smelling discharge from your vagina or external genitalia. You can also experience pain while having sex if you have an infection that has spread to your cervix. But unlike bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections—which are usually diagnosed with a vinegar test—trichomoniasis requires blood testing to diagnose properly because symptoms may be similar to those of other conditions like chlamydia (another sexually transmitted bacterial infection).
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Sometimes a bacterial infection or an STD can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is an infection of the female reproductive organs. It most often happens when sexually transmitted bacteria spreads from the vagina to the uterus, then to the ovaries or fallopian tubes. It’s not always sexually transmitted, it can come from other bacterial infections, but practicing safe sex with condoms and testing prior to sexual engagement can prevent it being sexually transmitted. Symptoms can range from:
- Pain during sex
- Fever or chills, or both
- Painful or frequent urination
- Heavy discharge from the vagina that might have a bad odor
- Lower abdomen and pelvis pain
- Bleeding from the vagina between periods or during or after sex
Complications from bacterial infections can affect your health and your baby’s if you are pregnant. Here are some of the risks:
- A vaginal infection could lead to a premature birth of your baby. It could also lead to low birth weight.
- Certain STDs, like HIV, herpes, gonorrhea, or chlamydia can be easier to contract when you already have a bacterial infection. A bacterial infection will lower your immune system making you more susceptible to other infections.
- If you’ve had any sort of surgery and are on antibiotics, you are also more susceptible to vaginal infections. Antibiotics get rid of both good and bad bacteria and will upset the good bacteria of your vagina. Most doctors will recommend you take a probiotic a few hours after you take the antibiotic. Be sure to check with your doctor first on what to do.
What to look out for and prevention.
If you have sensitive vaginal skin, then you’re probably prone to upsetting your natural pH. When the pH of the vagina is out of whack it can lead to an increase in bad bacteria, which can cause infections, such as a yeast infection. Here’s how to prevent disturbing your body’s natural bacterial balance:
- Try using unscented soaps. A soap with fewer chemicals, and more on the natural side is perfect.
- Switch to pads and tampons that have less harsh chemicals. There are plenty of organic tampons on the market
- For the love of God, please stop douching. It’s what our mothers did, but it’s not what we have to do. There is no necessary cleaning your vagina requires other than normal bathing. Douching only disrupts the natural bacterial balance of your vagina.
- Condoms, condoms, condoms. Use a male or female condom to prevent infections that will upset your vagina’s natural pH balance.
Don’t get too worried. It might be common.
You may have heard that yeast infections are a sexually transmitted disease (STD), but that’s not true. Yeast infections are not STDs and can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams or suppositories. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is another common vaginal infection that can be confused with yeast infections, so let’s take a look at how to tell if you have BV.
If you’re experiencing itching or burning in the vagina, itchy or sore bumps on the vulva and irritation during sex, it could be signs of a yeast infection. But it’s important to rule out other potential causes before assuming your symptoms are caused by candida albicans—the fungus responsible for causing most types of yeast infections—or taking any sort of medication without first consulting your doctor.
Medically Reviewed by Kaci Durbin, MD, MBA, FACOG on August 18, 2022
Author: Esther Jordan
Esther Jordan has been a writer ever since she can remember. She has always loved the free gift of self-expression through journaling, creating stories, and sharing life experiences in front of audiences. Public speaking and creating content has been a strong suit of hers since high school. Immediately after college, she received a paid position as an search engine optimization (SEO) writer in 2010 when SEO was still a very brick and mortar concept for a lot of small businesses. It was a time of do-it-yourself websites and online magic that everyone wanted and either referred to it as SEO or pay-per-click (PPC).