Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

What is BV?

Bacterial vaginosis is a mild infection of the vagina caused by bacteria. Normally, there are a lot of “good” bacteria and some “bad” bacteria in the vagina. The good types help control the growth of the bad types. In women with bacterial vaginosis, the balance is upset. There are not enough good bacteria and too many bad bacteria.

Bacterial vaginosis is usually a mild problem that may go away on its own in a few days. But it can lead to more serious problems. So it’s a good idea to see your doctor and get treatment.

How do I get BV?

Experts are not sure what causes the bacteria in the vagina to get out of balance. But certain things make it more likely to happen. Your risk of getting bacterial vaginosis is higher if you:

  • Stress
  • Having frequent sex
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Some forms of birth control
  • BV is more common in young women who are sexually active


Do I have BV?

The most common symptom is a smelly vaginal discharge. It may look greyish white or yellow and have a “fishy” smell, which may be worse after sex. About half of women do not notice any symptoms. There may be pain, itching, or burning in the vagina. You may also have burning when urinating; itching around the outside of the vagina, or both.

Many things can cause abnormal vaginal discharge, including some STDs. Doctors diagnose BV by asking about the symptoms, doing a pelvic exam, and taking a sample of the vaginal discharge.

How do you treat BV?

BV will sometimes go away without treatment. But if you have symptoms of BV you should be checked and treated. It is important that you take all of the medicine prescribed to you, even if your symptoms go away. A health care provider can treat BV with antibiotics, but BV can recur even after treatment. Treatment may also reduce the risk for STDs.

Male sex partners of women diagnosed with BV generally do not need to be treated. However, BV may be transferred between female sex partners.

Doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic to treat bacterial vaginosis. They come as pills you swallow or as a cream or capsules (called ovules) that you put in your vagina. If you are pregnant, you will need to take pills. Bacterial vaginosis usually clears up in 2 or 3 days with antibiotics, but treatment goes on for 7 days. Do not stop using your medicine just because your symptoms are better. Be sure to take the full course of antibiotics.

Antibiotics usually work well and have few side effects. But taking them can lead to a vaginal yeast infection. A yeast infection can cause itching, redness, and a lumpy, white discharge. If you have these symptoms, talk to your doctor about what to do.


How do I prevent BV?

You cannot get BV from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools.

Doctors and scientists do not completely understand how BV is spread, and there are no known best ways to prevent it. The following basic prevention steps may help lower your risk of developing BV:

  • Not having sex
  • Limiting your number of sex partners
  • Not douching.
  • Limit your number of sex partners
  • Don’t smoke
  • A good idea is to wear cotton underwear during the day! It’s also better if you don’t sleep in your underwear either.
  • It’s really better for you to NOT wear a thong. In fact, loose-fitting pants will help you to avoid getting BV.
  • Make sure to change out of your wet bathing suit or sweaty exercise clothes as soon as you can.

Bacterial vaginosis is more common in women who are sexually active. But it can occur if you are not sexually active as well. If you have it when you have a pelvic procedure such as a caesarean section, an abortion, or a hysterectomy, you are more likely to get a pelvic infection.

If you have it and you are exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (including HIV), you are more likely to catch the infection.

I’m pregnant. How does bacterial vaginosis affect my baby?

Pregnant women can get BV. Pregnant women with BV are more likely to have babies who are born premature (early) or with low birth weight than women who do not have BV while pregnant. Low birth weight means having a baby that weighs less than 5.5 pounds at birth.

Treatment is especially important for pregnant women.