Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

What is BV?

BV is a vaginal infection. “BV” stands for bacterial (back-TEER-ee-ol) vaginosis (VAJ-in-OH-sis). When natural bacteria in the vagina increase, BV may occur. It is the vaginal infection that occurs most often.

What causes BV?

The exact cause of BV is unknown. Use of douches and feminine sprays may increase the natural bacteria in the vagina. You cannot catch BV from someone else. Having sex does not give you BV. Women who are not having sex can get BV. However, more women who are sexually active get BV.

What are the signs of BV?

The two main symptoms of BV are:

  • Vaginal odor that is foul or “fishy.” This odor often gets stronger after having sex or during your monthly period.
  • Vaginal discharge that is thin and milky white or gray

Many women with BV do not notice any symptoms.

How do you find out if you have BV?

If you have signs of BV, you should contact your health care provider. You must have a test to learn if you have BV. A sample of the vaginal discharge will be tested.

How is BV treated?

If you have BV, your doctor may prescribe medicine for you. The medicine may be a medicine taken by mouth or the medicine may be a vaginal cream or gel. You must finish all of the medicine even if your symptoms have gone away.

Over-the-counter medicines for yeast or other vaginal products do not work for BV. Only a doctor or nurse practitioner can prescribe drugs for BV.

How to prevent BV

  • Avoid douching. Douching upsets the normal balance in the vagina. Douching may lead to BV.
  • Avoid perfumed soaps and feminine hygiene sprays. They can irritate the vagina.
  • Wipe from front to back, especially after a bowel movement. Wiping from front to back helps prevent the spread of bacteria from the rectum to the vagina.

When to call your health care provider

If you continue to have symptoms of BV after you finish your medicine, or if you have any questions, call your provider.

Revised September 2011

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