Bacterial vaginosis

Specialty of Genitourinary Medicine

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is a type of bacterial infection in the vagina. It occurs when the balance of bacteria in the vagina is upset, and one type of bacteria grows more than the others.

What’s the prognosis?

Bacterial vaginosis is generally a harmless condition but can cause uncomfortable symptoms.

In rare cases, it may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease. Bacterial vaginosis may also slightly increase your risk premature delivery or of sexually transmitted infections.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can include:

  • burning when you pee
  • a discharge that is white, grey, or green
  • a foul-smelling vaginal odour

How is it diagnosed?

If you get the symptoms mentioned above, you can visit your GP or nearest sexual health clinic. They will ask you about your symptoms and may use a swab to take a sample of your discharge and test it for BV or other infections.

What causes bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis occurs when the natural balance of bacteria in your vaginal is disrupted. This can occur if you:

  • ry to use washes or douches to clean your vagina
  • have a bath with strong perfumed bubble bath, shower gel or antiseptic solution
  • wash your underwear with detergent that is too strong
  • use an intrauterine device for contraception

Bacterial vaginosis is more common if you have multiple sex partners or a new sex partners – but doctors don’t yet understand why this is the case.

How is bacterial vaginosis treated?

Bacterial vaginosis is treated with a prescription of antibiotics for about a week. You’ll receive a prescription if you visit your GP or sexual health clinic; alternatively you can visit the pharmacist for a prescription.

It is common for bacterial vaginosis to come back. If this is the case, you’ll need to take antibiotics for a longer period of time.

How do I prevent bacterial vaginosis?

You can help prevent bacterial vaginosis by making sure that you:

  • never uses douches to clean your vagina, and don’t use soap – just use water
  • limit your sexual partners and get tested for STIs
  • clean sex toys after use every time
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