Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a very common condition caused by an overgrowth of normal germs (bacteria) in the vagina. This causes a change in the normal vaginal discharge, which may become more noticeable or develop a fishy smell.
Having a discharge from your vagina can be embarrassing and upsetting. However, it's a very common symptom, and most of the time it doesn't mean you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). In women who are having periods, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common cause of a vaginal discharge.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
BV is a disturbance in the mix of bacteria in your vagina. Normally, we have a healthy mix of millions of 'friendly' germs (bacteria) in our bodies, including in the vagina - we rely on them being there and they are a part of what keeps us healthy. In BV, the balance of vaginal bacteria is altered. The type of bacteria called anaerobic bacteria increase in number, whilst another type, called lactobacilli, dies off. This disturbance in the bacteria makes the inside of the vagina slightly less acidic than usual. This slight reduction in acidity then encourages the growth of more anaerobic bacteria and fewer lactobacilli.
Although the changes of BV don't usually cause pain or itching, they do tend to cause a discharge which can smell stronger than usual. Sometimes it smells 'fishy', particularly after sexual intercourse. It can be watery and greyish in colour. This can be distressing and make women feel unclean. Some women then try to douche or wash themselves with soaps or perfumes - but this will only disturb the vagina more (because soaps are too alkaline for the inside of the vagina) and will make the problem worse.
How common is bacterial vaginosis?
It is not exactly known how common BV is. It is often so mild that women may not go to the doctor. It may be that as many as about 1 in 3 women have BV at some time in their lives.
Further reading and references
Management of bacterial vaginosis; British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (May 2012)
Sexually Transmitted Infections in Primary Care; Royal College of General Practitioners and British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (Apr 2013)
Bacterial vaginosis; NICE CKS, July 2014 (UK access only)
Vaginal discharge; NICE CKS, May 2013 (UK access only)
Brotman RM, Ghanem KG, Klebanoff MA, et al; The effect of vaginal douching cessation on bacterial vaginosis: a pilot study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Jun198(6):628.e1-7. Epub 2008 Mar 4.
McDonald HM, Brocklehurst P, Gordon A; Antibiotics for treating bacterial vaginosis in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jan 24(1):CD000262.
Hi, I'm new to this group but I'm hoping you guys can help. Did you have cramps/lower abdominal pain with your BV? I have awful cramping in my lower abdomen, soreness, achey, inflamed, swollen...Allikat722
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