What is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common cause of unusual vaginal discharge. One in three people with a vagina get it at some time. People with a penis don’t get bacterial vaginosis. It’s not a sexually transmitted infection but can develop after you’ve had sex. The cause of bacterial vaginosis (sometimes called BV) isn’t really understood. People who have bacterial vaginosis have fewer normal vaginal bacteria (lactobacilli), and more of other types of bacteria in the vagina.
What are the symptoms (signs) of bacterial vaginosis?
Around half of people with bacterial vaginosis won’t have any signs and symptoms at all, or may not be aware of them.
You might notice a change in your usual vaginal discharge. This may increase, become thin and watery, change to a white/grey colour and develop a strong, unpleasant, fishy smell, especially after sex.
Bacterial vaginosis isn’t usually associated with soreness, itching or irritation.
Treatment for bacterial vaginosis
Treatment for bacterial vaginosis is simple and may involve taking either antibiotic tablets or using a vaginal cream or gel instead.
What should I do if I think I have bacterial vaginosis?
If you think you may have it, talk to a doctor or nurse who might recommend a test if you have signs and symptoms. You may be offered a test during pregnancy if you have symptoms.
Bacterial vaginosis isn’t a sexually transmitted infection but it’s important you don’t delay getting advice if you may have been at risk of a sexually transmitted infection.
You can book an appointment at one of our clinics and get tested. A doctor or nurse may examine inside of your vagina to look at any vaginal discharge and to collect a sample from the vaginal walls using a swab. A swab looks like a cotton bud, but is smaller and rounded. It only takes a few seconds to wipe over the area and isn’t usually painful, though it may be uncomfortable for a moment. Sometimes your test result will be available straight away, but other times it can take up to two weeks. You can also get tested by your GP.
It is possible to buy a bacterial vaginosis test to do at home. If you buy a testing kit, get advice from a pharmacist or your doctor about how to use it properly.
How can I avoid getting bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is more common if you:
- use medicated or perfumed soaps, bubble bath or shower gel
- put antiseptic liquids in the bath
- douche or use vaginal deodorant
- use strong detergents to wash your underwear
Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, receiving oral sex, semen in the vagina after sex without a condom, an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) and genetic factors may also play a part.
Bacterial vaginosis isn’t a sexually transmitted infection, but people with a vagina who are sexually active and have had a change of partner are more likely to have it, including those in same-sex relationships