What is bacterial vaginosis like?
Often, bacterial vaginosis (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 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.
Note: BV is not the only cause of a vaginal discharge. Various conditions can cause discharge, such as thrush (infection by overgrowth of a yeast called candida, which normally lives in the bowel) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Thrush typically causes a thickish white discharge which tends to cause itching and soreness around the vagina and vulva. See separate leaflet called Vaginal Thrush (Yeast Infection) for more details.
- STIs, such as chlamydia, may also cause vaginal discharge. See separate leaflet called Genital Chlamydia for more details.
Can bacterial vaginosis cause vaginal bleeding?
BV should not cause vaginal bleeding, although it is often more noticeable at the time of a period.
If you have unusual bleeding between periods or after intercourse, BV will not be the reason and you should consult your doctor to look for another cause.
Can bacterial vaginosis cause pain?
BV can sometimes cause pain - usually on intercourse. Some women also describe dull pains low down in their tummy. These are more suggestive of conditions affecting the womb (uterus) itself, such as pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis.
What are the risks of bacterial vaginosis?
BV and surgery
If you have untreated BV, the chance of developing an infection of the womb is slightly higher following certain operations (such as termination of pregnancy or a vaginal hysterectomy). You will normally be offered treatment for the BV in these cases.
BV and other infections
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.
Can bacterial vaginosis affect my pregnancy?
Yes, BV can affect pregnancy. If you have untreated BV during pregnancy, you have a slightly increased risk of developing some complications, including:
- Early labour.
- Having your baby early (preterm birth).
- Having a low-birth-weight baby.
- Developing an infection of the womb after childbirth (a condition known as postpartum endometritis).
For this reason, if you develop BV in pregnancy you will usually be offered treatment. This also means that if you develop an unusual or offensive discharge in pregnancy, you should seek medical advice early.
Can bacterial vaginosis cause infertility?
BV is more common in women with infertility. In women with BV who are undergoing IVF treatment, the presence of BV lowers the success rates. The studies which found these effects focused on women who were already known to have fertility problems, to see if they were more likely than other women to have BV.
This doesn't mean that if you have BV, you will have fertility problems: BV is extremely common (possibly a third of all women of menstrual age) and fertility problems which result in a need for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) are not common. This suggests that the chances that BV will affect your fertility are very low. Even so, if you are planning to conceive in the future and you think you may have BV, you should see your doctor and discuss the best options for treatment.
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.
I was pretty excited to come on this site to share what has cured me because i know how frustrating bv is and i am sure some of you have tried many things. I had bv for 3 months. I am just now...kris29
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.