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Bacterial vaginosis is an infection that results from an overgrowth of naturally occurring vaginal bacteria.

What Every Woman Needs to Know About Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a very common condition; in fact, it is the most common vaginal complaint in women during their childbearing years.

While BV is not dangerous, it can cause unpleasant symptoms and be quite uncomfortable. If you’re suffering from vaginal symptoms such as vaginal discharge that has an intense fishy odor, particularly after sexual intercourse, it’s wise to visit your physician as you may be suffering from bacterial vaginosis.

What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis is an infection that results from an overgrowth of naturally occurring vaginal bacteria. Normally, the so-called “good” bacteria, which are lactobacilli, outnumber the so-called “bad” bacteria, which are anaerobes. However, when there is an overgrowth of anaerobes, the natural bacterial balance of the vagina is disrupted, leading to BV.

Causes of Bacterial Vaginosis

The exact cause of bacterial vaginosis remains unknown; however, researchers believe that in order for BV to develop, a decrease of lactobacilli and an increase in anaerobic bacteria in the vagina is needed.

While the exact reason why this bacterial imbalance occurs remains unknown, researchers have identified certain risk factors that increase the risk of developing BV, including:

  • Recent antibiotic use
  • IUD use
  • Douching
  • New and/or multiple sexual partners
  • Smoking

Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis

Most women with bacterial vaginosis have no symptoms, so they are unaware that they have the condition. In other cases, the symptoms are very mild and temporary, which also make them hard to notice.

In women that do experience symptoms of BV, the classic symptom is a large amount of vaginal discharge, which has an intense fishy odor that is more obvious after sexual intercourse. The vaginal discharge may be foamy and can be dull grey, white or greenish in color.

In rare cases, women with BV may also experience a burning sensation or slight itching with urination, while others may notice pain with sexual intercourse.

Treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis

In asymptomatic women, and in those that aren’t pregnant, treatment for BV may not be necessary as this condition may disappear on its own. However, in symptomatic women, antibiotics can eliminate the infection and clear up the pesky symptoms associated with BV.

Antibiotics may be taken for between five and seven days in an oral form or applied via a gel or cream to the vaginal area. It’s important that women continue taking the prescribed antibiotic until the prescription is complete, even if symptoms have disappeared, as stopping treatment early may result in the infection recurring.

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It’s important to keep in mind that BV may be transmitted via sexual intercourse, so it’s advisable to abstain from sex until the infection is completely cleared. Female partners of women with BV should also be treated against the infection.

Additionally, if a woman is using an intrauterine device (IUD) and suffering from recurrent BV, they should consider speaking with their physician about an alternative form of birth control

Even after successful treatment, it is common for BV to recur. In such cases, antibiotics are typically prescribed for a longer duration. Some of the regularly used antibiotic remedies include:

  • Metronidazole: This medication is taken orally (tablet) or through the vaginal application. While the oral form of this medication is considered to be the most effective treatment for BV, it can trigger some nasty side effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, decreased appetite, stomach discomfort, an unpleasant metallic taste, itching, mouth sores, “hairy” tongue, as well as vaginal itching and/or discharge. The gel form of this medication may not trigger any immediate side effects, but yeast infection can develop as a reaction to the application of the medicine.
  • Vaginal clindamycin cream.
  • Tinidazole: This medication has been found to treat BV effectively and may carry fewer side effects compared to metronidazole.

Pregnant women with BV should be treated to lower the risk of pregnancy-related complications associated with the infection. Additionally, most medical professionals recommend treatment of bacterial vaginosis before cesarean delivery, IUD insertion, or full abdominal hysterectomy.

Prevention of Bacterial Vaginosis

Due to a poor understanding of the cause and progress of bacterial vaginosis, there are no clear-cut measures for preventing this infection. Minimizing risk factors such as limiting sexual partners and avoiding vaginal douching can be instrumental in lowering the risk of women developing the condition.


Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection among women of reproductive age. Although BV is not dangerous, it can trigger some unpleasant symptoms.

Seeking medical attention when you have symptoms of BV can help to eliminate the infection and associated uncomfortable symptoms.