How to test for Bacterial Vaginosis

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Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is a common condition that can affect women of all ages, but it is most likely to occur during a woman’s reproductive years. It’s a bacterial infection that is caused by an imbalance between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in your vagina. 

BV can result in symptoms including thin, watery discharge that smells slightly fishy and is an off-white or grey colour. It doesn’t usually result in itching or burning, and over 50 per cent of women claim to not have any symptoms of BV at all. 

There are many activities and products that could cause a BV infection. These include having sex with multiple partners or simply a new partner. Though BV isn’t a sexually transmitted infection, having sex with new partners or multiple different partners could upset the natual bacterial balance in the vagina, contributing to a lack of the ‘good’ bacteria, Lactobacillus,and causing ‘bad’ bacteria to multiply. 

Women who are pregnant or going through the menopause may have a naturally lower amount of Lactobacillus and may be more likely to contract the infection. 

 

How to get tested for BV

The first thing you should do is book an appointment with your GP. They may ask you about some of your symptoms and how long you’ve been experiencing them for.

When it comes to your appointment, it’s likely that they’ll perform a wet mount test. This is the most popular test that can be used to confirm whether you have BV or another kind of vaginal infection, such as Thrush or Trichomoniasis.

For the test, you will likely be asked to lie on your back with your feet above your hips in stirrups. A sample of vaginal discharge is checked for the type of bacteria that is usually present in excess if you have BV. The doctor will insert a speculum and take a swab of cells from the vaginal wall. The sample is also checked for white blood cells and clue cells. Clue cells are unusual and are typically only present if you have BV.

The sample they collect will be smeared on a microscopic slide and mixed with a saline solution. The slide will then be put under a microscope and the doctor should be able to determine whether the infection is BV or something else.

Other kinds of checks include a whiff test, a test using an oligonucleotide probe and a vaginal pH test. During the whiff test, a sample of discharge is taken and mixed with a special solution to see if a strong, fishy odour is created. For the pH test, the vagina’s pH level is tested. BV usually causes the vagina to become more alkaline, whereas normally the vagina should be acidic, with a pH between 3.5 and 4.5. A vagina with a pH higher than 4.5 may have BV, but further tests might need to be taken to determine this. For the oligonucleotide probe, vaginal discharge is tested for the genetic material of BV. The test isn’t often used but could be if other results are inconclusive.

Before any of these tests, you shouldn’t have sex, douche or use tampons for at least 24 hours. You should also book an appointment for a time when you’re not on your period. 

 

How long does it take for BV test results?

In most cases, the doctor will be able to confirm by the end of your appointment whether you have BV and what further actions you should take. In some cases, the cell sample may need to be sent off to a laboratory to be tested. You should have the results within around 10 to 14 days.