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What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) may cause unusual vaginal discharge because of disruption to the balance of bacteria inside the vagina.

The exact reason for this bacterial growth causing bacterial vaginosis is still not fully known.

Is bacterial vaginosis transmitted by having sex?

BV is not transmitted through having sex but is more common in women who have sex regularly.

Although bacterial vaginosis is not a serious threat to a woman's health, it can increase the risk of:

What are the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis?

Around half of women with bacterial vaginosis will not notice any symptoms.

When symptoms do appear, they include:

  • Fishy smelling discharge
  • White or grey discharge
  • Watery, thin discharge.
  • The condition doesn’t usually cause soreness or itching.

How is bacterial vaginosis diagnosed?

If you have these symptoms, seek medical advice from your GP, sexual health clinic or genitourinary medicine (GUM) centre.

A doctor will diagnose BV based on symptoms, a physical examination of the vagina, and further tests may be arranged.

A swab test from the vagina may be taken for laboratory testing.

The acidity (pH) of the vagina may also be tested.

Other tests may be done to rule out sexually transmitted infections.

What is the treatment for bacterial vaginosis?

A course of the antibiotic metronidazole is the usual initial treatment for BV either as a tablet or as a vaginal gel.

The choice of tablets or gel will depend on individual circumstances, but the gel is usually recommended during pregnancy.

If the infection continues, women using an intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception may be advised to remove it and use another contraceptive.

In some cases, treatment to correct the pH balance of the vagina may be recommended to reduce the risk of bacteria growing.

A referral to a specialist may be needed for repeated BV infections.

Does probiotic yoghurt help with BV?

The NHS says there's no evidence this approach works for prevention or treatment of BV.

Should I be treated for bacterial vaginosis if I am pregnant?

Metronidazole gel rather than tablets is usually recommended during pregnancy. Make sure the doctor knows if you are pregnant, or think you might be.

How can I protect myself from bacterial vaginosis?

Although the exact cause of BV isn’t known, some things are known to help reduce the risk of it developing. These include:

  • Avoiding perfumed soaps, shower gels, bubblebath and antiseptic bath products
  • Avoiding vaginal deodorants
  • Avoiding washing underwear in strong laundry products
  • Not douching.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 02, 2016

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