Recurrent Bacterial Vaginosis: How to Treat Symptoms That Won’t Go Away

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Get evaluated by a health care provider to get the most accurate diagnosis, says Dr. Phillips—and find a new one if you’re not getting good answers or helpful treatment as things stand.

Give health care providers all the info they need to make a complete diagnosis.

Bacterial STIs can also be strikingly similar to BV, symptom-wise. The condition can look a lot like trichomoniasis, which usually comes with funky-smelling discharge and itchiness, or Mgen, which causes unusual or smelly discharge, burning when you pee, and vulvar pain or discomfort. To avoid a misdiagnosis, Dr. Bovone recommends that providers test for all STIs, especially those with bacteria and parasites as vectors, or which come with symptoms of vaginal itching and discharge with an off odor (like gonorrhea and chlamydia). “We see it all, and can reassure you what is normal. And if anything is off, we can help,” says Dr. Bovone.

Ask a doctor to test you for BV specifically, too. Dr. Phillips starts appointments with a verbal screening to clarify her patients’ symptoms, then takes a vaginal swab sample to send out to a lab for analysis. Once she knows what’s actually going on, she’s able to devise a treatment plan.

When a doctor prescribes you treatment, follow their instructions and stick with it for the whole time you’re supposed to—even if your symptoms get better.

Depending on the infection and the clinic, you might be given the option of oral or vaginal antibiotics (often, clindamycin or metronidazole) to treat BV. To target recurrent BV, Dr. Bovone explains that doctors might prescribe a longer course of treatment than they would for a one-off case, such as using an antibiotic for seven to 10 days, plus a weekly dose of a vaginal antibiotic gel for four to six months afterward to prolong the treatment. There are also newer treatments, including a clindamycin vaginal gel called XACIATO that can be applied like a tampon to deliver a strong single dose of medication.

BV can come creeping back if you veer off course with a prescribed treatment, such as not taking all of the antibiotics every day or stopping before the intended date, even if it seems like your symptoms are clearing up. “Inadequate treatment is a setup for a recurrence: BV is a disruption of the normal vaginal flora, and that flora needs to be re-established,” says Dr. Bovone. It can become unclear whether the recurrence is a reinfection, or if the infection never really cleared in the first place.4 So, even if you’re feeling better, don’t stop taking medication before the set end date, or else you might risk a BV infection creeping back.

Keep things moisturized.

One way to keep your vaginal pH as close to acidic (and infection-free) as possible is to make sure there’s enough lubrication on a day-to-day basis. Vaginal dryness, which can happen due to lower estrogen levels during menopause or during a period of breastfeeding, among other things, can lead to a less acidic pH, according to Dr. Minkin. She recommends a vaginal moisturizing gel like Replens to help with dryness.

Get a doctor’s opinion before you use OTC suppositories, like those containing boric acid.

You may have heard of boric acid suppositories and other over-the-counter treatments that purportedly balance the vaginal microbiome. No matter what, you should speak with your health care provider to confirm you have BV before trying these out, Dr. Phillips says. From there, you should know that boric acid supplements are not FDA-approved, and that the jury’s still out about whether boric acid on its own can help with BV. (SELF has a full rundown of how boric acid affects your vagina, including if you have a bacterial or yeast infection.)

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