What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis: Overview

Bacterial vaginosis is a condition in which there is excess growth of certain bacteria that are normally found in the vagina. Symptoms often include abnormal gray or yellow discharge with a "fishy" odor. It is not considered an infection that is spread through sexual contact.

Symptoms can be annoying and uncomfortable. But bacterial vaginosis does not usually cause other health problems. However, in some cases it can lead to more serious issues.

While bacterial vaginosis may go away on its own, most doctors use antibiotics to treat it. You may have been prescribed pills or vaginal cream. With treatment, bacterial vaginosis usually clears up in 5 to 7 days.

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a condition in which there is an overgrowth of certain bacteria in the vagina. It is normal to have bacteria in the vagina. But when certain types of bacteria overgrow, it can cause bacterial vaginosis. This can cause a discharge from the vagina with a fishy odor.

What happens when you have bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis often clears up on its own. But in some cases it doesn't go away on its own. If your symptoms don't go away, treatment usually helps. But sometimes bacterial vaginosis comes back after it has cleared up.

What are the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis?

In many cases, bacterial vaginosis doesn't cause any symptoms. And it doesn't typically cause itching. But it may cause:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge. It may look grayish white or yellow. This is the most common symptom.
  • A "fishy" odor. It may be worse after vaginal intercourse and during your period.

How is bacterial vaginosis treated?

Treatment for bacterial vaginosis includes antibiotic medicine. Depending on the medicine prescribed, these may be taken either by mouth or in the vagina. Antibiotics kill the bacteria that cause symptoms. But symptoms often come back after antibiotic treatment.

Preventing bacterial vaginosis

Here are some tips to help prevent bacterial vaginosis.

  • Limit the number of sex partners you have.
  • Avoid douching.
  • Use condoms consistently.
  • Practice good hygiene.

    Wash your vulva daily with water or mild, unscented soap. Clean diaphragms, cervical caps, spermicide applicators, and sex toys after each use.

  • Practice safer sex.

    It is always important to practice safer sex to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), whether or not you have bacterial vaginosis.

How is bacterial vaginosis diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose bacterial vaginosis by asking about the symptoms, doing a pelvic exam, and taking a sample of the vaginal discharge. The sample can be tested to find out if you have bacterial vaginosis.

How is medicine used to treat bacterial vaginosis?

The antibiotics metronidazole (such as Flagyl and MetroGel), clindamycin (such as Cleocin and Clindesse), and tinidazole (such as Tindamax) are used to treat bacterial vaginosis. The medicine may be pills you swallow. Or it might be a cream or capsules that you put in your vagina.

You may be told by your doctor to avoid alcohol during treatment with metronidazole or tinidazole. These medicines can cause nausea and vomiting if you drink alcohol. And if you are being treated with Clindamycin cream or capsules, avoid using latex condoms during your treatment. The medicine may weaken latex. This means condoms and diaphragms may break and not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pregnancy.

How can you care for yourself when you have bacterial vaginosis?

Take your antibiotics as directed. Use pads instead of tampons while using a vaginal cream or suppository. Wear loose cotton clothing to help the area stay cool and dry. You can relieve itching with a cold pack or cool bath. But don't wash your vulva more than once a day, and don't douche.

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis is a condition in which there is an overgrowth of certain bacteria that normally live in the vagina. It's usually a mild problem that may go away on its own. But it can lead to more serious problems. So it's a good idea to see your doctor and get treatment.

What problems can bacterial vaginosis cause?

Bacterial vaginosis can increase the risk of getting a pelvic infection. It can also raise the risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection in those who are exposed to one. During pregnancy, bacterial vaginosis increases the risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and uterine infection.

What causes bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria that are normally in the vagina. No one knows exactly what causes the bacteria to overgrow. But certain things make it more likely to happen, such as douching or having a new sex partner.

Can yogurt help to treat bacterial vaginosis?

Some people have tried treating bacterial vaginosis with the probiotic Lactobacillus. This is found in foods like yogurt and in dietary supplements. But more research is needed to find out if it works to treat or prevent bacterial vaginosis. It's also not clear which type of Lactobacillus would work best.

Bacterial vaginosis: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have new or worse pain in your vagina or pelvis.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have new or worse vaginal itching or discharge.
  • You have unexpected vaginal bleeding.
  • You are not getting better as expected.
  • Your symptoms return after you finish the course of your medicine.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.