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Bacterial Vaginosis

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common irritation of the vagina caused by bacteria.

How does it occur?

Bacterial vaginosis appears to be caused by an overgrowth of some types of bacteria in the vagina. It is normal to have bacteria in the vagina, but sometimes there are too many of certain kinds of bacteria. Doctors don't know what causes an overgrowth of bacteria.

Most cases of bacterial vaginosis happen in sexually active women. Women who have more than 1 sexual partner have a greater risk of this problem. However, women who are not sexually active can also have BV.

Douching may cause an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina and lead to BV.

What are the symptoms?

Many women don't have any symptoms. When women do have symptoms, the most common symptom is a discharge from the vagina. The discharge may be gray or yellowish and smell bad. For example, it may smell fishy, especially after sex. You may also have itching around the opening of the vagina.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will give you a pelvic exam and get a sample of vaginal discharge for lab tests.

How is it treated?

Bacterial vaginosis is treated with an antibiotic. The medicine may be a cream put into the vagina, or it may be taken as pills.

How long will the effects last?

Untreated bacterial vaginosis sometimes goes away on its own. It should be treated to avoid complications. The symptoms usually go away within a few days after you start treatment.

Complications from BV could occur, such as soreness and burning in the vagina that do not go away.

How can I take care of myself?

Call your healthcare provider during office hours if:

  • Your symptoms get worse or last longer than 1 week.
  • You start having an itch or a thick white discharge while using the antibiotic to treat BV. This could be a yeast infection.
  • You have other questions or concerns.

How can I help prevent bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis is not completely understood by scientists, and the best ways to prevent it are not known. However, your chances of having BV are greater when you have a new sex partner or more than 1 partner.

To help lessen the risk of an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina:

  • If you are sexually active, have just 1 partner who has no other partners.
  • Do not douche.
Developed by David W. Kaplan, MD, and RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-01-27
Last reviewed: 2010-01-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
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