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Bacterial Vaginosis


Topic Overview

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis is a mild infection of the vagina caused by bacteria. Normally, there are a lot of "good" bacteria and some "bad" bacteria in the vagina. The good types help control the growth of the bad types. In women with bacterial vaginosis, the balance is upset. There are not enough good bacteria and too many bad bacteria.

Bacterial vaginosis is usually a mild problem that may go away on its own in a few days. But it can lead to more serious problems. So it's a good idea to see your doctor and get treatment.

What causes bacterial vaginosis?

Experts are not sure 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 bacterial vaginosis is higher if you:

  • Have more than one sex partner or have a new sex partner.
  • Smoke.
  • Douche.

You may be able to avoid bacterial vaginosis if you limit your number of sex partners and don't douche or smoke.

Bacterial vaginosis is more common in women who are sexually active. But it is probably not something you catch from another person.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom is a smelly vaginal discharge. It may look grayish white or yellow. A sign of bacterial vaginosis can be a "fishy" smell, which may be worse after sex. About half of women who have bacterial vaginosis do not notice any symptoms.

Many things can cause abnormal vaginal discharge, including some sexually transmitted infections (STIs). See your doctor so you can be tested and get the right treatment.

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.

What problems can bacterial vaginosis cause?

Bacterial vaginosis usually does not cause other health problems. But in some cases it can lead to serious problems.

  • If you have it when you are pregnant, it increases the risk of miscarriage, early (preterm) delivery, and uterine infection after pregnancy.
  • If you have it when you have a pelvic procedure such as a cesarean section, an abortion, or a hysterectomy, you are more likely to get a pelvic infection.
  • If you have it and you are exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (including HIV), you are more likely to catch the infection.

Getting treated with antibiotics can help prevent these problems.

How is it treated?

Doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic to treat bacterial vaginosis. They come as pills you swallow or as a cream or capsules (called ovules) that you put in your vagina. If you are pregnant, you will need to take pills.

Bacterial vaginosis usually clears up in 2 or 3 days with antibiotics, but treatment goes on for 7 days. Do not stop using your medicine just because your symptoms are better. Be sure to take the full course of antibiotics.

Antibiotics usually work well and have few side effects. But taking them can lead to a vaginal yeast infection. A yeast infection can cause itching, redness, and a lumpy, white discharge. If you have these symptoms, talk to your doctor about what to do.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about bacterial vaginosis:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

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