Health Library

Categories > Pelvic Pain and Disorders > Infections

Yeast infection or BV: What’s the difference?

Most women have little chance of escaping an episode of yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (BV), two common and unpleasant vaginal disorders. Though treatable, they must be correctly diagnosed. Here’s a brief look at their differences and at steps to cure and prevent them.

  • Yeast infections. A fungus called Candida albicans is normally present in the vagina, pH-balanced with other microorganisms. Many factors, from drugs to the weather, can knock the pH balance off-kilter, allowing C. albicans to grow unchecked. Result: a yeast infection.

Women with yeast infections suffer itching and burning; painful urination; and thick, whitish, odorless discharges. Over-the-counter medicine can treat them effectively, but because women often mistakenly self-diagnose these infections or don’t eliminate them the first time, it’s best to see your doctor should you experience symptoms. With proper care, almost all infections go away within two weeks of starting treatment. Untreated infections do not cause disease but can be spread during intercourse.

  • Bacterial vaginosis. This ailment is also caused by a microbial imbalance in the vagina. Normally, “good” lactobacillus bacteria keep other organisms in check. But when “bad” bacteria become too numerous, for reasons not well understood, the result is a grayish foul discharge, irritation and possible itching.

You should always see your doctor if you suspect you have BV. That’s because the germ can infect the fallopian tubes and uterus, causing pelvic inflammatory disease. BV may be associated with low birth-weight babies.

Doctors can prescribe oral antibiotics or creams for BV. One caveat: Antibiotics kill both the infection and the “good” bacteria, so you need to restore your vaginal pH balance to prevent another infection.