Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition caused by changes in the amount of certain types of bacteria in your vagina. BV is common, and any woman can get it. BV is easily treatable with medicine from your doctor or nurse. If left untreated, it can raise your risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and cause problems during pregnancy.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition caused by changes in the amount of certain types of bacteria in your vagina. BV can develop when your vagina has more harmful bacteria than good bacteria.
BV is the most common vaginal condition in women ages 15 to 44. But women of any age can get it, even if they have never had sex.
You may be more at risk for BV if you:
- Have a new sex partner
- Have multiple sex partners
- Do not use condoms or dental dams
- Are pregnant. BV is common during pregnancy. About 1 in 4 pregnant women get BV. The risk for BV is higher for pregnant women because of the hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy.
- Are African-American. BV is twice as common in African-American women as in white women.
- Have an intrauterine device (IUD), especially if you also have irregular bleeding
Researchers are still studying how women get BV. You can get BV without having sex, but BV is more common in women who are sexually active. Having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners, as well as douching, can upset the balance of good and harmful bacteria in your vagina. This raises your risk of getting BV.
Many women have no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include:
- Unusual vaginal discharge. The discharge can be white (milky) or gray. It may also be foamy or watery. Some women report a strong fish-like odor, especially after sex.
- Burning when urinating
- Itching around the outside of the vagina
- Vaginal irritation
These symptoms may be similar to vaginal yeast infections and other health problems. Only your doctor or nurse can tell you for sure whether you have BV.
BV and vaginal yeast infections are both common causes of vaginal discharge. They have similar symptoms, so it can be hard to know if you have BV or a yeast infection. Only your doctor or nurse can tell you for sure if you have BV.
With BV, your discharge may be white or gray but may also have a fishy smell. Discharge from a yeast infection may also be white or gray but may look like cottage cheese.
There are tests to find out if you have BV. Your doctor or nurse takes a sample of vaginal discharge. Your doctor or nurse may then look at the sample under a microscope, use an in-office test, or send it to a lab to check for harmful bacteria. Your doctor or nurse may also see signs of BV during an exam.
Before you see a doctor or nurse for a test:
- Don’t douche or use vaginal deodorant sprays. They might cover odors that can help your doctor diagnose BV. They can also irritate your vagina.
- Make an appointment for a day when you do not have your period.
Researchers do not know exactly how BV spreads. Steps that might lower your risk of BV include:
- Keeping your vaginal bacteria balanced. Use warm water only to clean the outside of your vagina. You do not need to use soap. Even mild soap can cause irritate your vagina. Always wipe front to back from your vagina to your anus. Keep the area cool by wearing cotton or cotton-lined underpants.
- Not douching. Douching upsets the balance of good and harmful bacteria in your vagina. This may raise your risk of BV. It may also make it easier to get BV again after treatment. Doctors do not recommend douching.
- Not having sex. Researchers are still studying how women get BV. You can get BV without having sex, but BV is more common in women who have sex.
- Limiting your number of sex partners. Researchers think that your risk of getting BV goes up with the number of partners you have.