Bacterial vaginosis is an infection of the vulva and vagina. It is associated with an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina.
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A mix of good and bad
bacteria are normally found in the vagina. Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there is an increase in the amount of bad bacteria. The increased bad bacteria causes a decrease in good bacteria. This imbalance can lead to symptoms.
It is not clear exactly what causes the increase in bad bacteria.
Factors that may increase your chance of bacterial vaginosis include:
- Antibiotic use
- 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 bacterial vaginosis, including those who have never had sex.
Some women with bacterial vaginosis do not have any symptoms.
Symptoms that can 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 several different conditions that can causes these symptoms. Your doctor will help you determine the cause of your symptoms.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Fluid from your vagina may be tested to look for specific bacteria or other infectious agents.
Bacterial vaginosis can lead to complications such as:
Treatment is important even if you do not have any symptoms. The main course of treatment is prescription antibiotic pills or vaginal creams. Finish all medication as prescribed by your doctor even if the symptoms have gone away. This can prevent the infection from recurring.
Avoid sexual intercourse during treatment. If you do have sexual intercourse, use condoms. Usually, male sexual partners do not need to be treated. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.
To help reduce your chances of getting bacterial vaginosis, take the following steps:
- Abstain from sex or remain monogamous.
- Use condoms when having sex.
- Do not use douches.
- After bowel movements, wipe from front to back, away from the vagina.
Bacterial vaginosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 25, 2012. Accessed March 4, 2013.
Bacterial vaginosis - CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/std/BV/STDFact-Bacterial-Vaginosis.htm. Updated September 1, 2010. Accessed March 4, 2013.
Bacterial vaginosis fact sheet. US Department of Health and Human Services Womens Health website. Available at:
http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bacterial-vaginosis.cfm. Updated September 1, 2008. Accessed March 4, 2013.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010.
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7/7/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
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Last reviewed December 2013 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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