Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection in the vagina. BV is caused by changes in the amount of certain types of bacteria in your vagina. BV is common, and any woman can get it. BV is easily treatable with medicine from your doctor or nurse. If left untreated, it can raise your risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and cause problems during pregnancy.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection in the vagina. BV is caused by changes in the amount of certain types of bacteria in your vagina. BV can develop when your vagina has more harmful bacteria than good bacteria.
BV is the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15 to 44.1 But women of any age can get it, even if they have never had sex.
You may be more at risk for BV if you:
Researchers are still studying how women get BV. You can get BV without having sex, but BV can also be caused by vaginal, oral, or anal sex. You can get BV from male or female partners.
Many women have no symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include:
These symptoms may be similar to vaginal yeast infections and other health problems. Only your doctor or nurse can tell you for sure whether you have BV.
BV and vaginal yeast infections are both common causes of vaginal discharge. They have similar symptoms, so it can be hard to know if you have BV or a yeast infection. Only your doctor or nurse can tell you for sure if you have BV.
With BV, your discharge may be white or gray but may also have a fishy smell. Discharge from a yeast infection may also be white or gray but may look like cottage cheese.
There are tests to find out if you have BV. Your doctor or nurse takes a sample of vaginal discharge. Your doctor or nurse may then look at the sample under a microscope, use an in-office test, or send it to a lab to check for harmful bacteria. Your doctor or nurse may also see signs of BV during an exam.
Before you see a doctor or nurse for a test:
BV is treated with antibiotics prescribed by your doctor.
If you get BV, your male sex partner won't need to be treated. But, BV can be spread to female partners. If your current partner is female, she needs to see her doctor. She may also need treatment.
It is also possible to get BV again. Learn how to lower your risk for BV.
BV and vaginal yeast infections are treated differently. BV is treated with antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. Yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter medicines. But you cannot treat BV with over-the-counter yeast infection medicine.
If BV is untreated, possible problems may include:6
BV is easy to treat. If you think you have BV:
Yes. The medicine used to treat BV is safe for pregnant women. All pregnant women with symptoms of BV should be tested and treated if they have it.
If you do have BV, you can be treated safely at any stage of your pregnancy. You will get the same antibiotic given to women who are not pregnant.
Steps you can take to lower your risk of BV include:
If your partner has BV, you can lower your risk by using protection during sex.
For more information about bacterial vaginosis, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662, or contact the following organizations:
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Page last updated: April 18, 2017.
Content last reviewed: November 19, 2014.