Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

What is BV?

  • It is the most common bacterial imbalance in your vagina.
  • “Good” and “bad” bacteria live in balance in your vagina. Too much “bad” bacteria can lead to BV. 
  • BV has also been called:
    • Non-specific Haemophilus vaginitis
    • Gardnerella vaginitis

Signs of BV are:

  • A foul or "fishy" vaginal odor. The odor often seems worse after having sex.
  • A rise in gray-white milky discharge.
  • Itching, burning, and irritation are not common signs. It may happen in 1 out of every 3 women with BV. 
  • Some women may not notice any signs.

What causes BV?

  • The cause of BV is unknown, but many factors can contribute to the condition.
  • BV seems to happen more often in women who have sex regularly. 
  • You cannot give it from one partner to the other, like chlamydia or gonorrhea. 
  • Women who have not had sex can also get BV.

How to know you have BV

  • Only your health care provider can diagnose BV. They will look at a sample of your vaginal discharge under a microscope or other office test. 
  • BV signs can look like other vaginal infections. 
    • Many women who have BV may think they have a yeast infection. They might self-treat at home. This can make your BV worse.
  • Your health care provider will help you choose a treatment that will work best for you.

How is BV treated?

  • Antibiotics are used to treat BV. They can be:
    • A pill you take by mouth
      • Do not drink alcohol with this treatment.
    • A gel or cream that is put into your vagina
    • A suppository that is put into your vagina
  • Medicines used to treat BV can only be prescribed by a health care provider.
  • Over the counter products (such as creams, sprays, or douches) will not be helpful.
    • Douching can upset the normal balance of bacteria and cause other problems.
  • Sex partners are not normally treated. Your health care provider may suggest treating your partner if you have many infections.
  • Do not have sex during your treatment course.
    • If you do have sex, your partner should wear a condom.
  • Think about starting a probiotic. There are many choices. You could try Fem Dophilus.

Are there any risks?

Some studies have shown a higher risk for:

  • Pelvic infection
  • Premature (early) labor if pregnant
  • Infection after:
    • A vaginal birth
    • Cesarean section
    • Gynecologic surgery

See your health care provider if you notice any signs of BV or if symptoms do not improve with treatment.

Last reviewed: 
March 2020
Alternative Names: 
Non-specific Haemophilus vaginitis
Gardnerella vaginitis

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