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What is bacterial vaginosis?

Although 'yeast' is the name most women think of when they think of vaginal infections,  bacterial vaginosis (BV) is another very common type of vaginal infection in women of  reproductive age.

BV affects around one in three women at some point in their lives.

BV is caused by a combination of several bacteria. These bacteria seem to overgrow in much the same way as Candida (the yeast responsible for thrush) does when the vaginal balance is upset. The exact reason for this overgrowth is not known.

Is bacterial vaginosis transmitted by sexual intercourse?

BV is not transmitted through sexual intercourse but is more common in women who are sexually active. It is also not a serious health concern but can increase a woman's risk of developing other sexually transmitted infections and may increase the risk of  pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) following surgical procedures such as abortion and  hysterectomy. BV may increase the risk of early  labour and premature births in women who have the infection during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis?

Up to 50% of women who have bacterial vaginosis do not have any symptoms, but if symptoms do appear, they can include:

  • White or discoloured, often grey, discharge
  • Discharge that smells "fishy", that is often strongest after sex
  • Pain during urination
  • Itchy and sore vagina.

How is bacterial vaginosis diagnosed?

Your doctor can tell you if you have BV. He or she will examine you and will take a sample of fluid from your vagina. The fluid is viewed under a microscope. In most cases, your doctor can tell immediately if you have BV.

What is the treatment for bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis can be treated with medicine prescribed by your doctor. The most common  medicines prescribed for BV is an antibiotic called  metronidazole This may be taken orally or used as a vaginal gel.

Over half of women successfully treated for an episode of BV will experience the symptoms coming back, often within six months. If a woman experiences BV frequently, she may be referred to a gynaecologist for further tests and treatment.

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

Perhaps, but some medications for BV should not be taken during the first three months of pregnancy. Seek medical advice if you are pregnant. Also let your doctor know if you think that you might be pregnant. You and your doctor should discuss whether or not the infection should be treated.

With BV in pregnancy, there is a small increased risk of complications, including premature birth or miscarriage.

How can I protect myself from bacterial vaginosis?

Ways to prevent BV are not yet known. It is possible to reduce the risk of developing BV by not douching and not using scented soaps or vaginal deodorants. Stopping smoking is also advised to help prevent BV.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 20, 2012

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