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.
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Last reviewed: February 2020