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Bacterial vaginosis is an infection of the vulva and vagina. It is associated with an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina.
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A mix of good and bad bacteria is normally found in the vagina. Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there is an increase in the amount of bad bacteria. The increase in bad bacteria causes a decrease in good bacteria. This imbalance can lead to symptoms.
It is not clear exactly what causes the increase in bad bacteria.
Factors that may increase your chance of bacterial vaginosis include:
- Antibiotic use
- Having a new sexual partner or multiple partners
- Having sex without a condom
- Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control
Any woman can get bacterial vaginosis, including those who have never had sex.
Some women with bacterial vaginosis do not have any symptoms.
Symptoms that can develop include:
- Itching around the vagina
- Vaginal irritation
- Burning feeling while urinating
Abnormal vaginal discharge:
- Color: white or gray
- Consistency: thin, foamy, or watery
- Odor: fish-like, especially after sex
There are several different conditions that can cause these symptoms. Your doctor will help you determine the cause of your symptoms.
You will be asked about your symptoms, and medical and sexual history. A physical exam will be done. This will include a pelvic exam.
Fluid from your vagina may be tested to look for specific bacteria or other infectious agents.
Bacterial vaginosis can lead to complications such as an increased risk of:
- Sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, gonorrhea, or chlamydia
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Premature birth
Treatment is important even if you do not have any symptoms. The main course of treatment is prescription antibiotic pills or vaginal creams. Finish all medication as prescribed by your doctor even if the symptoms have gone away. This can prevent the infection from recurring.
Avoid sexual intercourse during treatment. If you do have sexual intercourse, use condoms. Usually, male sexual partners do not need to be treated. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.
To help reduce your chance of bacterial vaginosis:
- Abstain from sex or remain monogamous.
- Use condoms when having sex.
- Do not use douches.
- After bowel movements, wipe from front to back, away from the vagina.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Office on Women's Health
Sexuality and U—The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Updated October 21, 2015. Accessed December 11, 2015.
Bacterial vaginosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/BV/STDFact-Bacterial-Vaginosis.htm. Updated September 3, 2015. Accessed December 11, 2015.
Bacterial vaginosis. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bacterial-vaginosis.html. Updated May 26, 2015. Accessed December 11, 2015..
Bacterial vaginosis (BV). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 9, 2015. Accessed December 11, 2015.
Martin HL, Nyange PM, et al. Hormonal contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, and risk of heterosexual transmission of human immunodeficiency virus type 1. J Infect Dis. 1998;178(4):1053-1059.
Martin HL, Richardson BA, et al. Vaginal lactobacilli, microbial flora, and risk of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 and sexually transmitted disease acquisition. J Infect Dis. 1999;180(6):1863-1868.
Myer L, Kuhn L, et al. Intravaginal practices, bacterial vaginosis, and women's susceptibility to HIV infection: epidemiological evidence and biological mechanisms. Lancet Infect Dis. 2005;5(12):786-794.
Taha TE, Hoover DR, et al. Bacterial vaginosis and disturbances of vaginal flora: association with increased acquisition of HIV. AIDS. 1998;12(13):1699-1706.
7/7/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Qaseem A, Humphrey LL, Harris R, et al. Screening pelvic examination in adult women: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2014;161(1):67-72.
- Reviewer: Karli-Rae Kerrschneider, RN
- Review Date: 12/2015
- Update Date: 12/11/2015