Bacterial Vaginosis


Bacterial vaginosis is an infection of the vulva and vagina.


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Bacteria can always be found in the vagina. An infection occurs when the bacteria are out of balance. This allows unhealthy bacteria to grow and spread. The increased growth of the bacteria can lead to symptoms.

It is not always clear what causes these changes.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of bacterial vaginosis include:

  • Antibiotic use
  • Smoking
  • Douching
  • Having a new sexual partner or multiple partners
  • Having sex without a condom
  • Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control

Any woman can get this infection. This includes those who have never had sex.


Some women will not have symptoms.

Symptoms that may develop include:

  • Itching around the vagina
  • Vaginal irritation
  • Burning feeling while urinating
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge:
    • Color: white or gray
    • Consistency: thin, foamy, or watery
    • Odor: fish-like, especially after sex

There are different conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Your doctor will help you find the cause of your symptoms.


You will be asked about your symptoms. You will also be asked about your health and sexual history. A physical and pelvic exam will be done.

A sample of fluid may be tested. It will help to identify what is causing the symptoms.


Bacterial vaginosis does need treatment. Untreated, it can lead to complications such as an increased risk of:

Antibiotic pills or creams are the main treatment. Finish all medication as prescribed by your doctor. This is important even if the symptoms have gone away. This can prevent the infection from coming back.

Avoid sex during treatment. If you do have sex, use condoms. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.


To help reduce your chance of bacterial vaginosis:

  • Limit the number of sexual partners.
  • Do not use douches.


American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services


Sexuality and U—The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters


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Bacterial vaginosis. Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at:
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Myer L, Kuhn L, et al. Intravaginal practices, bacterial vaginosis, and women's susceptibility to HIV infection: epidemiological evidence and biological mechanisms. Lancet Infect Dis. 2005;5(12):786-794.
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7/7/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Qaseem A, Humphrey LL, Harris R, et al. Screening pelvic examination in adult women: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2014;161(1):67-72.
Last reviewed November 2018 by Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
Last Updated: 7/17/2018

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