Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a vaginal infection caused by bacteria. It is the most common cause of abnormal vaginal discharge that occurs in reproductive-age women (women who have not gone through menopause yet).
Bacterial vaginosis may cause a "fishy" odor and cause vaginal irritation in some women. Others may not have any symptoms.
Bacterial vaginosis is associated with poor obstetrics and gynecologic outcomes such as preterm delivery, infection after surgeries such as a hysterectomy, and may make a woman more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal problem for women ages 15 to 44. In fact, an estimated one in three American women will get BV. The rate is higher in black women.
Anyone with a vagina can get bacterial vaginosis (BV), even if you haven’t had sex. But that’s rare. It usually occurs in people who are sexually active. You may have a higher risk of getting BV if you:
Your vagina is home to multiple types of bacteria (called a microbiome), just like your digestive system. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) happens when some of the vaginal bacteria grow more quickly than others. Too much of one type of bacteria leads to an imbalance.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) doesn’t spread from person to person, but sexual activity can increase your risk of getting the infection.
Bacterial vaginosis isn’t sexually transmitted, but it is linked with sexual activity. Researchers think that sex may change the bacterial environment in your vagina. This makes bacterial overgrowth more likely.
Up to 84% of people with bacterial vaginosis (BV) don’t have symptoms. If you do, you may have:
BV symptoms are similar to other infections. It’s important to visit your healthcare provider to determine if what you have is BV or another vaginal infection.
Both bacterial vaginosis (BV) and yeast infections are vaginal infections that increase discharge. Here’s how you can tell the difference:
During an exam, your healthcare provider takes a sample of fluid from your vagina. Healthcare providers view the fluid under a microscope, test it in the office or send it to the lab for analysis.
In one-third of cases, bacterial vaginosis (BV) resolves on its own without any medications. However, if you have symptoms, you should seek medical care. Having BV makes you prone to sexually transmitted infections and can affect pregnancy.
There are no over-the-counter products to treat bacterial vaginosis (BV). Avoid using douches or products meant for yeast infections, which could make BV worse. See your healthcare provider for treatment.
Because bacterial vaginosis (BV) isn’t fully understood, there are no foolproof ways of avoiding it. These steps may reduce your risk:
Most of the time, one round of antibiotics — taken for up to seven days — eliminates the infection. About 10% to 15% of people need another round of treatment.
Yes. Up to 80% of women may get bacterial vaginosis again.
If you have bacterial vaginosis (BV), your provider can prescribe medication that’s safe to use during pregnancy. You should get treated for the infection whether or not you have symptoms. BV can cause pregnancy complications, such as early delivery or having a baby that weighs less than average.
Male partners don’t need to be treated for bacterial vaginosis (BV). If you have a female partner, she may have BV too. It’s important to let her know so she can get treatment.
Call your provider if you have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Although bacterial vaginosis is a mild infection, it can make you vulnerable to more serious conditions. Don’t put off seeing your healthcare provider if you notice anything unusual. A simple course of antibiotics could set things straight.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 06/05/2020