Bacterial Vaginosis - Symptoms

Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis

  • The main symptom of bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a vaginal discharge.
  • BV is one of the most common causes of vaginal discharge in women of childbearing age.
  • 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.

Many women with BV do not have any symptoms (up to half of cases).

Note: BV is not the only cause of a vaginal discharge. Various conditions can cause discharge. For example, another common cause of vaginal discharge is an infection caused by a yeast called thrush (candida). Unlike BV, thrush typically causes a thicker 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.

What are the possible complications of bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and pregnancy

If you have untreated BV during pregnancy, you have a slightly increased risk of developing some complications of pregnancy. These include:

  • Early labour.
  • Miscarriage.
  • Having your baby early (preterm birth).
  • Having a low birth-weight baby.
  • Developing an infection of the womb (uterus) after childbirth (a condition known as postpartum endometritis).

BV and surgery

If you have untreated BV, the chance of developing an infection of the womb is higher following certain operations (such as termination of pregnancy or a vaginal hysterectomy).

BV and other infections

If you have untreated BV, you may have an increased risk of developing HIV infection if you have sex with someone who is infected with HIV. You may also be more likely to pass on HIV if you have HIV and BV together. There is also some evidence that women with untreated BV may be at an increased risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). See separate leaflets called HIV and AIDS and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease for more details.

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Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Hannah Gronow
Document ID:
4203 (v41)
Last Checked:
30 September 2014
Next Review:
29 September 2017

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.