Bacterial vaginosis is a condition that occurs when the balance of bacteria in a woman’s vagina is disrupted by a surge of certain harmful bacteria. The most common symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, also referred to as BV, include discharge, odor, pain, itching, or burning.
While the cause of BV is not completely understood, normally, the "good" bacteria (lactobacilli) greatly outnumber "harmful" bacteria (anaerobes). BV results when the harmful bacteria begin to outnumber the good bacteria.
Not much is known about how women get BV. However, some activities such as having a new sexual partner, having multiple sexual partners and/or douching, are thought to influence the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina, thereby putting women at increased risk.
Yet and still, the link between sexual activity and BV is somewhat tenuous, as women who have never had sexual intercourse may also be affected. In addition, while there are a lot of unknowns about how women get BV, experts agree that women do not get BV from toilet seats, bedding, swimming pools, or from touching objects around them.
Women with BV may experience symptoms such as an abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant, fishy odor, especially after intercourse. Women with BV may also have a discharge, which is usually thin and white or gray.
Women with BV sometimes experience burning during urination and/or itching around the outside of the vagina. Nonetheless, the majority of women diagnosed with BV report no symptoms at all. Oftentimes, women who have treated themselves with an over-the-counter anti-yeast medication for a persistent yeast infection may, in fact, have BV.
While BV isn’t characterized by causing complications, there are some serious risks from BV, which include, but are not limited to, an increase in susceptibility to STDs such as HIV, herpes simplex virus, chlamydia and gonorrhea, as well as an increased risk of infection following reproductive surgery (e.g., hysterectomy, abortion).
In addition, women who have BV during their pregnancy may have an increased risk for some complications of pregnancy.