Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Bacterial vaginosis

2-minute read

Bacterial vaginosis (sometimes known as BV, non-specific vaginitis, or Gardnerella) is a common condition caused by an imbalance in the bacteria that occur naturally in the vagina.

If you think you may have bacterial vaginosis, it's a good idea to get checked by your doctor, as it can lead to other problems.

What causes bacterial vaginosis?

The exact cause of bacterial vaginosis is not known. However, it is thought to result from an overgrowth of bacteria that live naturally in the vagina.

You are more likely to have bacterial vaginosis if you regularly douche (rinse or flush your vagina), use an intrauterine device (IUD) and have had sex, particularly with a new partner or multiple partners.

Having bacterial vaginosis can put you at an increased risk of other conditions, including sexually transmitted infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, and complications during pregnancy.

Get checked by your doctor, as bacterial vaginosis can lead to other problems.

Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis

In about half of all cases of bacterial vaginosis, there are no noticeable symptoms.

When they do occur, symptoms usually include a white or grey watery vaginal discharge, an unpleasant or ‘fishy’ vaginal odour and mild irritation around the vagina. Sometimes these symptoms come and go, or are more noticeable during menstrual periods.

Your doctor or nurse can make a diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis by taking a swab of vaginal discharge, and having it examined under a microscope.

Bacterial vaginosis treatment and prevention

Bacterial vaginosis doesn’t necessarily have to be treated if there are no symptoms. However, if you are pregnant, it’s important you seek treatment because you can be at risk of complications such as miscarriage and premature delivery.

Treatment is with antibiotics such as metronidazole, tinidazole or clindamycin, which may be given as oral tablets, or a vaginal antibiotic cream or gel. More than one course of treatment may be needed. You can also buy an acidic jelly for the vagina over the counter to help correct the acid balance of the vagina. It is not normally necessary to treat sexual partners, but spread between female sexual partners is possible.

If you have had bacterial vaginosis, there are some things you can do to help prevent further episodes. In particular, avoid smoking, douching or using perfumed talcs or deodorants around your vagina.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Bacterial Vaginosis | Play Safe

WIth Bacterial Vaginosis, you won’t always notice symptoms. If you do, you may have white or grey discharge coming from your vagina. Sometimes it can smell ‘fishy’.

Read more on NSW Health website

Bacterial vaginosis - Better Health Channel

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is caused by an imbalance of the bacteria normally present in the vagina.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Women's health - NT.GOV.AU

General information about women's health, bacterial vaginosis, thrush, pelvic inflammatory disease and cervical screening.

Read more on NT Health website

Common Vaginal & Vulval Conditions | Family Planning NSW

There are a number of conditions that can affect your vagina and vulva (the outside part of the femal genitals). Some are uncomfortable, others can be painful and irritating.

Read more on Family Planning NSW website

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) - Lab Tests Online AU

Site map of article content

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Hormonal health clues made clear | Jean Hailes

Hormones can be a complex area of women's health, but certain changes to your vagina and vulva can give you some insight.

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Vagina talk: infections that can be misdiagnosed as thrush

Vagina talk: 5 infections that can be misdiagnosed as thrush, and what they really are. Read more

Read more on Marie Stopes Australia website

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) - myDr.com.au

Sexually transmitted infections have become more common in Australia in recent years.Its possible for anyone who is sexually active to get an STI, but there are ways you can reduce your risk.

Read more on myDr website

STIs and pregnancy

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), if left untreated, can cause serious problems for both mother and child.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Preterm labour - myDr.com.au

Going into labour before your 37th week of pregnancy is called preterm labour, or premature labour.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo