What is bacterial vaginosis?

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?

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

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?

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?

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

How can we help you?

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Accessing our service during the COVID pandemic

How to access our service:

We have now implemented a telephone triage system for all of our clinics. This system will be in place for the duration of the pandemic. Please contact our services to access this triage system. Our central telephone number is 0300 303 3989.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus please do not attend the clinic. Clear advice for people with symptoms of coronavirus is available at nhs.uk/coronavirus .

Advice from our service:

We have updated information on the provision of routine contraception during this pandemic here.

More details on the fitting of LARCs (coils and implants) at our service can be found here

If you need the combined contraceptive pill please try (if you can) to get updated measurements of your height, weight and blood pressure before calling us.

There is also specific advice on coronavirus available for People Living with HIV here, and for pregnant women here

Self-requested Sexual Health screening by post is available for for under 25s only - more info here

For others with testing requirements please contact the service on 0300 303 3989.

Alternative provision:

Please be aware that we may have to cancel, rearrange or shut clinical services in response to changing clinical and staffing pressures created by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

If you are struggling to access sexual health services, alternatives may be available:

  • Emergency Contraception - at your local pharmacy - more info
  • Contraceptive pills and LARC procedures - obtained from your GP
  • HIV postal testing - available to at-risk groups for a small fee -  more info
  • HIV PEPSE - available via A+E departments - more info
  • Condoms by post (for gay and bisexual men only) - more info