COVID-19 Resources & Information | Testing | Vaccination | Visitor Policy and Hours
View All Services
Find a New Primary Care Provider
Search by Specialty
View All Locations
Discover classes, events, tours, and groups that fit your interests.
Home > Be Healthy > Health Library > 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.
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.
The most common symptom of bacterial vaginosis is abnormal vaginal discharge. It may look grayish white or yellow. It may have a "fishy" odor, which may be worse after vaginal intercourse. But in many cases, bacterial vaginosis doesn't cause any symptoms.
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.
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.
It's normal for bacteria to be in the vagina. But when certain types of bacteria overgrow, it can cause bacterial vaginosis.
No one knows exactly what causes the bacteria to overgrow. But certain things make it more likely to happen. Your risk of getting bacterial vaginosis is higher if you:
Bacterial vaginosis is more common if you are sexually active. But if you aren't having sex, you can also get it.
Here are some tips to help prevent bacterial vaginosis.
Wash your vulva daily with water or mild, unscented soap. Clean diaphragms, cervical caps, spermicide applicators, and sex toys after each use.
It is always important to practice safer sex to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), whether or not you have bacterial vaginosis.
In many cases, bacterial vaginosis doesn't cause any symptoms. And it doesn't typically cause itching. But it may cause:
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.
Bacterial vaginosis usually doesn't cause other health problems. But in some cases it can lead to serious problems.
Bacterial vaginosis can be hard to distinguish from other types of vaginal infection. Consider the following if you have any signs of vaginal infection.
Call your doctor now if you:
Call your doctor for an appointment if you:
It's a good idea to contact or see your doctor about unusual vaginal symptoms.
If your symptoms are due to a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and not bacterial vaginosis, you may infect a sex partner if you delay treatment. You may also develop more serious complications of STIs such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Doctors diagnose bacterial vaginosis by asking about symptoms, doing a pelvic exam, and taking a sample of the vaginal discharge. The sample can be tested for bacterial vaginosis.
These lab tests may include:
A sample of discharge is checked for bacteria, white blood cells, and unusual cells called clue cells. These clue cells are one sign of bacterial vaginosis.
A special solution is added to a sample of discharge to see if it gives off a strong fishy odor. This odor usually means you have bacterial vaginosis.
The pH of a sample of vaginal discharge is measured. Bacterial vaginosis often causes a pH that is higher than normal.
This test looks for the genetic material (DNA) of bacterial vaginosis bacteria.
The presence of clue cells, an increased vaginal pH, and a positive whiff test are enough evidence to treat for bacterial vaginosis.
Sometimes bacterial vaginosis goes away without treatment. But doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic medicine if you are having symptoms. Antibiotics kill the bacteria that cause symptoms. The medicine may be pills you swallow. Or it might be a cream or capsules that you put in your vagina. In many cases, symptoms come back after antibiotic treatment. If your symptoms come back, talk to your doctor.
Bacterial vaginosis makes the reproductive tract vulnerable to infection or inflammation. So if you are having symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, it is important to get tested and treated by your doctor.
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.
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.
Current as of:
November 22, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Sarah Marshall MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineDevika Singh MD, MPH - Infectious Disease
Current as of: November 22, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Devika Singh MD, MPH - Infectious Disease
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.