Bacterial Vaginosis, or BV, is a mild infection of the vagina that is caused by an imbalance of bacteria. BV is more common in women who are sexually active. BV can be treated with antibiotics.
For more information on symptoms, causes, treatments and prevention see the Overview section.
Information for Health Professionals
Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is an imbalance of bacteria normally found in the vagina. When some bacteria increase in number, a woman may notice changes such as more discharge from the vagina or a change in odor.
BV is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is more common in sexually active women but women who are not sexually active can also have BV.
Common symptoms include an increase in vaginal discharge or a change in vaginal fluid odor. However, about half of women who have BV do not notice any symptoms.
Bacterial vaginosis is more common in women who are sexually active, but it is not a sexually transmitted infection. It is unclear what causes the bacteria in the vagina to get out of balance, but certain things make it more likely to happen. Your risk of getting BV is higher if you:
- Have more than one sex partner or a new sex partner
- Are a woman having sex with women
- Have an IUD
Bacterial vaginosis usually does not cause other health problems, though it can lead to serious problems in certain situations:
- If you are pregnant, BV increases the risk of miscarriage, early (preterm) delivery, and uterine infection after pregnancy.
- If you have a pelvic procedure such as an IUD insertion, C-section, abortion, or hysterectomy; BV increases the risk of getting a pelvic infection.
- If you are exposed to a sexually transmitted infection, BV increases your risk of infection.
Your doctor may only test you for bacterial vaginosis if you:
Your doctor can diagnose bacterial vaginosis based on your history of symptoms, a pelvic examination, and testing a sample of the vaginal discharge.
- Have symptoms
- Are going to have an IUD insertion, hysterectomy or surgical abortion
- Are pregnant and have had a preterm delivery in the past (a past preterm delivery may have been caused by infection)
Treatment options for bacterial vaginosis include:
- Antibiotic medicine (oral or vaginal): Doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic to treat BV if you are having symptoms or have one of the risks for complication. Antibiotics can kill the problem bacteria that cause the BV symptoms but sometimes don't treat the underlying cause. Symptoms can recur in about 1 out of 3 of women after antibiotic treatment.
- Watchful waiting: In about 1 out of 4 women, BV symptoms resolve on their own. This happens when the vaginal lactobacilli organisms increase to their normal levels and other bacteria levels drop.
To help prevent bacterial vaginosis:
Bacterial vaginosis may be passed between women during sexual contact. If you are a woman having sex with women, you may benefit from using female condoms or careful washing of shared sex toys.Bacterial vaginosis is not passed between men and women and is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is always important to practice safe sex to prevent sexually transmitted infections, whether or not you have BV.
- Limit the number of sex partners you have (multiple sex partners increase your risk of getting BV by changing the normal environment of the vagina).
- Avoid douching.
- Avoid smoking.