Bacterial Vaginosis

is an infection of the vagina. BV is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age.

Bacterial Vaginosis Overview

Reviewed: September 10, 2014

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection of the vagina that develops when the normal balance of vaginal bacteria is disrupted. BV is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age.

Examples of activities that change the normal bacterial balance include douching, taking antibiotics, wearing an intrauterine device (IUD), and having unprotected sexual activity. BV is more common in sexually active women than in non-sexually active women, but it is not considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

The main symptom of BV is a thin vaginal discharge that appears grayish white and smells of fish, especially after sexual activity. Other symptoms may include burning when urinating, itching around the outside of the vagina, and irritation. These symptoms may also be caused by another type of infection, so it is important to see a doctor. Many women with BV have no symptoms at all.

BV is often diagnosed based on a pelvic exam and symptoms, however certain tests can help confirm the diagnosis.

BV will sometimes go away without treatment. Your healthcare provider may choose to treat it with antibiotics if your symptoms persist.

Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms

Symptoms of BV may include one or more of the following:

  • abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant or fish-like odor, especially after sex
  • white (milky) or gray vaginal discharge
  • foamy or watery discharge
  • burning when urinating
  • itching around the outside of the vagina
  • vaginal irritation

Many women with BV do not have any symptoms.

Bacterial Vaginosis Causes

Any woman can get BV. But certain activities can upset the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina, raising your risk of BV:

  • Having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners
  • Douching
  • Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control
  • Not using a condom

BV is more common among women who are sexually active, but it is not clear how sex changes the balance of bacteria.

Bacterial Vaginosis Diagnosis

Diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis is often made based on symptoms and a pelvic exam.

A test of vaginal secretions may be used to help determine if BV is present.

Bacterial Vaginosis Treatments

BV will sometimes go away without treatment. But if you have symptoms of BV you should be checked and treated. It is important that you take all of the medicine prescribed to you, even if your symptoms go away. A health care provider can treat BV with antibiotics, but BV can recur even after treatment. Treatment may also reduce the risk for STDs.

Male sex partners of women diagnosed with BV generally do not need to be treated. However, BV may be transferred between female sex partners.