What is bacterial vaginosis ?

Bacterial vaginosis, also called BV, is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age. It happens when the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted and replaced by an overgrowth of certain bacteria called Gardnerella.

The vagina normally contains mostly “good” bacteria, and fewer “harmful” bacteria. Bacterial vaginosis develops when there is an increase in “harmful” bacteria and fewer “good” bacteria.

What causes bacterial vaginosis?

The cause of bacterial vaginosis is not understood. It can develop when something, like sexual contact, disrupts the balance between the good bacteria that protect the vagina from infection and the harmful bacteria that don't. It is not clear what role sexual activity plays in the development of bacterial vaginosis, but bacterial vaginosis is more common among women who have had vaginal sex. But bacterial vaginosis is not always from sexual contact. We do know that certain things can upset the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina and put you more at risk for bacterial vaginosis:

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

We also know that you do not get bacterial vaginosis from toilet seats, bedding, swimming pools, or from touching objects around you.

What are the signs of bacterial vaginosis?

Women with bacterial vaginosis may have an abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor. Some women report a strong fish-like odor, especially after sexual intercourse. The discharge can be white (milky) or gray and thin. Other symptoms may include burning when urinating, itching around the outside of the vagina, and irritation. However, these could be symptoms of another infection too. Some women with bacterial vaginosis have no symptoms at all.

How can I find out if I have bacterial vaginosis?

There is a test to find out if you have bacterial vaginosis. Your doctor takes a sample of fluid from your vagina and has it tested. Your doctor may also be able to see signs of bacterial vaginosis, like a grayish-white discharge, during an examination of the vagina.

How is bacterial vaginosis treated?

bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics, which are medicines prescribed by your doctor. Your doctor may give you either metronidazole or clindamycin. Generally, male sex partners of women with bacterial vaginosis do not need to be treated. You can get bacterial vaginosis again even after being treated.

Is it safe to treat pregnant women who have bacterial vaginosis?

All pregnant women with symptoms of bacterial vaginosis or who have had a premature delivery or low birth weight baby in the past should be tested for bacterial vaginosis and treated if they have it. The same antibiotics that are used to treat non-pregnant women can be used safely during pregnancy. However, the amount of antibiotic a woman takes during pregnancy may be different from the amount taken if not pregnant.

Can bacterial vaginosis cause medical problems?

In most cases, bacterial vaginosis doesn't cause any problems. But some problems can happen if bacterial vaginosis is untreated.

  • Pregnancy problems. bacterial vaginosis can cause premature delivery and low birth weight babies (less than five pounds).
  • PID. Pelvic inflammatory disease or PID is an infection that can affect a woman's uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, which carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. Having bacterial vaginosis increases the risk of getting PID after a surgical procedure, such as a hysterectomy or an abortion.
  • Higher risk of getting other STDs. Having bacterial vaginosis can increase the chances of getting other STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. Women with HIV who get bacterial vaginosis increase the chances of passing HIV to a sexual partner.
How can I prevent bacterial vaginosis?

bacterial vaginosis is not well understood by scientists, and the best ways to prevent it are unknown. What is known is that bacterial vaginosis is associated with having a new sex partner or having multiple sex partners. Follow these tips to lower your risk for getting bacterial vaginosis:

  • Don't have sex. The best way to prevent any STD is to practice abstinence, or not having vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
  • Be faithful. Have a sexual relationship with one partner is another way to reduce your chances of getting infected. Be faithful to each other, meaning that you only have sex with each other and no one else.
  • Use condoms. Protect yourself with a condom EVERY time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Condoms should be used for any type of sex with every partner. For vaginal sex, use a latex male condom or a female polyurethane condom. For anal sex, use a latex male condom. For oral sex, use a dental dam. A dental dam is a rubbery material that can be placed over the anus or the vagina before sexual contact.
  • Don't douche. Douching removes some of the normal bacteria in the vagina that protects you from infection. This may increase your chances of getting bacterial vaginosis. It may also increase the chances of bacterial vaginosis coming back after treatment.
  • If you are pregnant and have symptoms of bacterial vaginosis or had a premature delivery or low birth weight baby in the past, get tested for bacterial vaginosis. Get tested as soon as you think you may be pregnant.
  • Finish your medicine. If you have bacterial vaginosis, finish all the medicine that you are given to treat it. Even if the symptoms go away, you still need to finish all of the medicine.

More information about bacterial vaginosis is given in the following guide, which explores the following topics:

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