Bacterial vaginosis


Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common cause of unusual vaginal discharge in women who are of child-bearing age. It's an infection of the vagina and is usually easily treated.

What is BV?

There are many different bacteria and fungi that are naturally present in the vagina, called flora. Normal flora helps to keep the vagina healthy and prevent infections. However, sometimes, this balance of flora is thrown off, causing bacterial vaginosis. 

Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and so can also affect women who aren't sexually active. BV can, however, be triggered by sex and can increase the risk of contracting an STI.

What are the symptoms of BV?

You may notice:

  • A white or grey discharge with a 'fishy' smell
  • Discharge that's thin or watery

Usually there's no redness or soreness with BV. Half of women with BV don’t have any symptoms.

What are the risk factors for getting BV?

  • Being sexually active
  • Having a new partner
  • STIs
  • A copper intra-uterine contraceptive device (known as an IUD)
  • Vaginal douching
  • Bubble baths
  • Smoking

What's the treatment?

You'll be able to get some advice for BV from your pharmacist. They may recommend you try a gel that is applied to the vagina before bedtime. 

If over-the-counter remedies are not effective or your symptoms get worse, you’ll need to see your Doctor. Your doctor may decide to give you a prescription for antibiotics. These come as tablets to take, or gels or creams to insert into the vagina. Some need to be taken as a course over a week, while others are given as a one-time only dose. 

If your Doctor is unsure whether your symptoms are coming from an STI, you may be asked to have further tests.

What happens if I get BV while I'm pregnant?

In most cases, BV poses no risk to pregnant women, but, in a very small number of cases, there can be a risk of complications. If you notice that your discharge has changed during pregnancy, make sure you check it out with your midwife or Doctor.

How can I help prevent BV?

If you're getting BV often, see if the following things help to avoid another episode. Otherwise, speak to your Doctor who'll be able to make sure that you're not getting symptoms from something other than BV.

  • Use water and plain soap to wash your genital area
  • Avoid using vaginal deodorants, perfumed soaps or douches
  • Take a shower instead of baths
  • Don't smoke
  • Using condoms can help protect against BV

What are the next steps?

  • Speak to your pharmacist or doctor for advice if you think you've got bacterial vaginosis
  • Avoid using perfumed shower gels, vaginal deodorants or douches which disrupt the natural vaginal flora