Bacterial vaginosis is a mild infection of the vagina. Although it is usually treated easily, it may be a sign that you have other, more serious conditions. It can also lead to complications, including the following:

  • Pregnancy complications, such as low birth weight and premature delivery
  • Higher risk of pelvic inflammatory disease if the bacteria infect the uterus and fallopian tubes

There is an association between bacterial vaginosis and a higher risk of getting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. If a woman has HIV and also bacterial vaginosis, there is a higher risk of transmitting HIV to her male partner during unprotected sex.

Talk to your doctor right away if you think you have bacterial vaginosis. It is treated with antibiotics.


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Bacterial vaginosis is caused when the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted. Normally, the vagina has helpful bacteria ( lactobacilli ), as well as more harmful bacteria (anaerobes—bacteria that do not need oxygen to live).

Sometimes the harmful bacteria overgrow, and not enough helpful bacteria are left in the vagina. The cause of this overgrowth is not understood. In some cases, it may be related to sexual activity through transfer of harmful bacteria from a sexual partner.

Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chances of developing bacterial vaginosis:

  • Smoking
  • Using douches or feminine sprays
  • Having sex without a condom
  • Having a new sexual partner or multiple partners
  • Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control


Some women with bacterial vaginosis do not have any symptoms. Others experience the following symptoms:

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

If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to bacterial vaginosis. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include the following:

  • A pelvic exam to look for signs of bacterial vaginosis
  • A sample of fluid from the vagina to test for signs of infection


It is important to treat bacterial vaginosis if you experience symptoms, or if you are pregnant and do not have any symptoms. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.

Bacterial vaginosis is easily treated with antibiotics, in the form of pills or vaginal creams prescribed by your doctor.

If you are diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis, follow your doctor's instructions.


To help reduce your chances of getting bacterial vaginosis, take the following steps:

  • Abstain from sex or remain monogamous (have only one sexual partner).
  • Use condoms during sex.
  • Do not use douches or feminine sprays.
  • Visit your doctor for regular pelvic exams.
  • To avoid a recurrence of bacterial vaginosis, finish all medication prescribed by your doctor, even if the symptoms go away.
  • Wash diaphragms and other reusable birth control devices thoroughly after use.
  • Avoid wearing panty hose and other clothing that can trap moisture in the vagina.
  • After bowel movements, wipe from front to back (away from the vagina).