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Bacterial vaginosis is an infection of the vulva and vagina.
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Bacteria can always be found in the vagina. An infection occurs when the bacteria are out of balance. This allows unhealthy bacteria to grow and spread. The increased growth of the bacteria can lead to symptoms.
It is not always clear what causes these changes.
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 this infection. This includes those who have never had sex.
Some women will not have symptoms.
Symptoms that may 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 different conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Your doctor will help you find the cause of your symptoms.
You will be asked about your symptoms. You will also be asked about your health and sexual history. A physical and pelvic exam will be done.
A sample of fluid may be tested. It will help to identify what is causing the symptoms.
Bacterial vaginosis does need treatment. Untreated, it can lead to complications such as an increased risk of:
- Sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV , gonorrhea , or chlamydia
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Premature birth
Antibiotic pills or creams are the main treatment. Finish all medication as prescribed by your doctor. This is important even if the symptoms have gone away. This can prevent the infection from coming back.
Avoid sex during treatment. If you do have sex, use condoms. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.
To help reduce your chance of bacterial vaginosis:
- Limit the number of sexual partners.
- Do not use douches.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services
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 June 4, 2015. Accessed December 11, 2017.
Bacterial vaginosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/BV/STDFact-Bacterial-Vaginosis.htm. Updated February 16, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017.
Bacterial vaginosis. Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bacterial-vaginosis.html. Updated April 18, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115494/Bacterial-vaginosis-BV . Updated September 26, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017.
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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 Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115494/Bacterial-vaginosis-BV : 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: Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
- Review Date: 11/2018
- Update Date: 07/17/2018