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What is Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

In this week's article we take a look at bacterial vaginosis. In it we discuss what it is, what it looks like, the causes of it and as well as how to treat it. It is a very common condition which can be embarrassing if you have it, however rest assured that it is a lot more common than you think - and if you feel that you have some of these symptoms it is important to reach out to a healthcare professional to see how we can help you.

Bacterial vaginosis is a common vaginal condition that leads to unusual vaginal discharge, it is not however a sexually transmitted infection (STI) itself however it can increase your chances of getting chlamydia.

What Causes of BV?

Bacterial vaginosis results from overgrowth of one of several bacteria naturally found in your vagina. Usually, "good" bacteria outnumber "bad" bacteria. But if there are too many bad bacteria, they upset the natural balance of microorganisms in your vagina and cause bacterial vaginosis. However, there are several risk factors that can increase your chances of getting BV, these include:

  • Douching, or using water or a medicated solution to clean the vagina
  • Having a bath with antiseptic liquids
  • Having a new sex partner
  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Using perfumed bubble baths, vaginal deodorants, and some scented soaps
  • Smoking
  • Washing underwear with strong detergents


BV cannot be caughtfrom toilet seats, bedding, swimming pools or touching objects.

What Are The Symptoms of BV?

The main symptom of BV is a vaginal discharge. BV is the most common cause of vaginal discharge in women of childbearing age. Often, BV causes no symptoms. This is true in about half of the women who have the condition. This may be because the bacterial disturbance is only mild.

When BV causes symptoms, this is usually a change in vaginal discharge. Some women will also notice the characteristic fishy smell.

  • The discharge is often white-grey in colour and often has a fishy smell.
  • The smell may be more noticeable during sex.
  • The discharge tends to be heaviest just after a period, or after sex.
  • The discharge does not usually cause itch or soreness around the vagina and vulva


There are several different conditions that can cause vaginal discharge, such as thrush. Thrush typically has a thick white discharge that causes itchiness and irritation around the vulva and vagina. Whereas STIs such as chlamydia can also cause vaginal discharge. If you are unsure what type of discharge you have, it is important that you speak to a healthcare professional who will be able to put you in the right direction for getting treatment.

Is BV Dangerous?

Despite around 50% of women that have BV not actually presenting symptoms, it is quite a dangerous thing if left untreated. Untreated BV may slightly increase the risk of you acquiring HIV infection if you have sex with someone who is infected with HIV. This is probably because the normal acidity of the vagina helps protect against STIs. If you have HIV and BV together then you are slightly more likely to pass on the HIV.

Women with BV who are undergoing IVF treatment, the presence of BV lowers the success rates. Equally, women who have BV can develop problems when they are pregnant such as early labour and potentially miscarraige.

How Do I Treat BV?

Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated with an antibiotic called metronidazole or clindamycin which comes as tablets, gels (zidoval vaginal gel) or creams, these are prescribed by a GP or sexual health clinic.

It's common for BV to come back, usually within 3 months – if this is the case then you'll need to take treatment for longer (up to 6 months) if you keep getting BV (you get it more than twice in 6 months). Your GP or sexual health clinic will recommend how long you need to treat it. If it is a recurring issue, they can also help identify if something is triggering your BV, such as sex or your period.

How Can I Prevent BV?

There is no certified cure to stopping BV from happening, however you can take these steps in order to minimise the chances of you getting BV. For example:

  • Don’t douche - you do not need to push water up into the vagina it is self cleaning
  • Get tested for sexually transmitted diseases, and make sure your sex partners are tested.
  • Limit your number of sex partners, and make sure that they use a condom when having sex.
  • Use only water or mild soap to wash your genitals - chemicals can upset the pH of the vagina and increase the chances of getting BV.
  • Wipe from front to back after you use the bathroom

 

Author: Matt Jenning MRPharmS

Clinically Reviewed By:

Ibrahim Nakib BSc(Hons) MRPharmS

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