Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and trichomoniasis are two of the most common types of vaginal infections affecting women worldwide. BV is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria normally present in the vagina. Though it appears to be associated with sexual activity, disrupting the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina, BV is not considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). In contrast, trichomoniasis is an STD--spread through sexual contact--caused by an invading pathogen. While both conditions may be present in men, they rarely experience any symptoms.
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BV and trichomoniasis are two distinct infections but can manifest in nearly identical ways.
Strong Fishy Odor
Both infections can present with a strong fishy odor. In BV, the odor often is worse during a woman's period or immediately after sex. If you notice a strong fishy smell, do not try to cover it up by douching or using scented soaps, as that can exacerbate the condition. Instead, make an appointment with your health care provider to determine if you have a vaginal infection.
If you have BV, you may notice a thin, off-white or gray discharge that uniformly coats the inside of the vagina. In trichomoniasis, vaginal discharge may be yellow-gray or greenish in color. Keep in mind that some vaginal discharge is healthy and can change in appearance and odor throughout the menstrual cycle. Try to pay attention to your body to know what’s normal for you.
Though less common in BV than in trichomoniasis, itching can be a symptom of either infection. However, since itching is one of the most common symptoms of vulvovaginal candidiasis--commonly referred to as a yeast infection--women often mistake their symptoms for that of a yeast infection and mistreat it with over-the-counter (OTC) yeast infection medications. If you use medication for a yeast infection when you actually have BV or trichimoniasis, you can make the infection worse. See your health care provider if you think you may have a vaginal infection. She can run the appropriate tests to determine what kind of infection you have so that it can be treated with the correct medication.
Burning and Irritation
Some women may experience burning during urination and redness or swelling in the vulva. This is more common in trichomoniasis infections than in BV but can be present in either.
If left untreated, both conditions can increase your risk of HIV and other STDs. In addition, these conditions may cause early delivery in pregnant women.
Some women with BV or trichomoniasis do not experience any symptoms. In fact, this is another reason why it is so important for all women to visit their doctor at least once a year to have an annual health exam. Left untreated, BV and trichomoniasis can lead to many complications, especially in pregnant women or women undergoing certain surgeries.