What is Bacterial Vaginosis? Signs, Symptoms, Treatments and More

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What is Bacterial Vaginosis? Signs, Symptoms, Treatments and More

written by Sofie Wise Written by Sofie Wise
Sofie Wise

Sofie Wise

Sofie hopes to create a more sustainable healthcare system by empowering people to make conscious health decisions. Her interests include cooking, reading, being outdoors and painting.

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reviewed by Renee Rulin, MD, MPH Reviewed by Renee Rulin, MD, MPH
Renee Rulin, MD, MPH

Renee Rulin, MD, MPH

Dr. Rulin is a Board Certified Family Physician with experience treating adults and children of all ages. She completed a residency at Brown University and received a Masters in Public Health from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Rulin enjoys being outdoors as much as the New England weather will allow, enjoys reading and cooking, and practices yoga and meditation.

February 8, 2022 Read Time - 8 minutes

What is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is the most common cause of abnormal vaginal discharge in women aged 15 – 44 years. It is caused by a disruption in the vaginal microbiome, or the natural balance of the different kinds of bacteria or microflora living in the vagina.

BV is often, but not always, related to sexual intercourse. It does not always cause symptoms. 

You do not have to be sexually active to get bacterial vaginosis, and you may not even know you have it because it doesn’t always present with symptoms. Asymptomatic BV is only a concern if you are pregnant. It most often resolves on its own. If you do have symptoms, it might be confusing to know whether it is a yeast infection or something else.

Read on to learn more about bacterial vaginosis causes, symptoms, treatment, and how to prevent it.

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How Do You Get Bacterial Vaginosis?

While researchers do not completely understand the specific bacterial vaginosis causes, we do know that BV is associated with sexual activity, particularly vaginal intercourse. It is also seen more frequently in women who have multiple sexual partners, douche or use perfumed lubricants or sex toys regularly. 

Some women have been told that extra vaginal cleaning such as bubble baths, scented soaps, douches, and vaginal deodorants are necessary. However, all of these products upset the delicate microbial and chemical balance of vaginal bacteria, possibly contributing to bacterial vaginosis causes.

What are the Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis?

You may have BV if you have the following symptoms:

  • Thin discharge that is gray or white
  • Vaginal pain, itching, or burning 
  • Strong odor that smells like fish, especially after sex
  • Vaginal discharge that may be more noticeable after sex or just after a period
  • Pain or burning with urination – this is rare but can be a symptom among some women

Signs and symptoms of bacterial vaginosis are similar to symptoms of other conditions, such as yeast infections. Learn more here about the difference between bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.

Some of the same risk factors that can cause bacterial vaginosis can also cause more complicated conditions such as a uterine infection, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an ovarian infection, or a fallopian tube infection.

You can talk to one of our board-certified PlushCare physicians and get relief from your bacterial vaginosis symptoms today. Our doctors are here to help- simply book an appointment from the comfort of your phone or computer.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

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Is Bacterial Vaginosis an STD?

No, bacterial vaginosis is not an STD, now more commonly referred to as an STI or sexually transmitted infection. However, having this infection can make it easier for you to a get a sexually transmitted infection like gonorrhea, herpes, or chlamydia. Likewise, if you are immunocompromised due to HIV, having bacterial vaginosis increases the chances of passing HIV on to your partner.

It is not possible for a woman to get BV from intercourse with a male partner. However, for reasons that aren’t clear, it is more likely to develop bacterial vaginosis after a new change in sexual partners. It may be possible that having a new male partner or multiple male partners upsets the pH balance of good and bad bacteria in the vagina.

A woman who has a female sexual partner can pass this condition on to her partner. This is because the anaerobic bacteria on a woman’s body that has bacterial vaginosis may overwhelm the pH balance of the lactobacilli of her partner.

Some STDs have similar symptoms to bacterial vaginosis. Read more here to find out what to do if you think you have an STD.

Can Men Get Bacterial Vaginosis?

No, men cannot get bacterial vaginosis. As this infection is unique to a woman’s vagina, men cannot get bacterial vaginosis. There is no equivalent place on a man’s body for organisms like lactobacilli and anaerobic bacteria to attempt to create a balanced acidic environment.

If you have a male sexual partner and you think you have bacterial vaginosis, there is no need for your partner to seek medical treatment. However, if your partner is a woman, she may want to consider treatment from a medical professional, particularly if your BV is recurring or chronic.

How to Get Rid of Bacterial Vaginosis

If you have any of the above signs and symptoms of bacterial vaginosis or you feel like something just isn’t right, the first step is to seek professional medical help. Make an appointment to discuss your symptoms with one of our PlushCare doctors today.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, the length of your discomfort, and do a vaginal examination if they deem it necessary. They may also take a sample of the discharge by using a cotton swab and check this sample under a microscope to determine what kind of bacteria it is.

A sample of your vaginal discharge may also rule out any other potential medical issues with similar symptoms like a yeast infection or a sexually transmitted disease such as trichomoniasis or gonorrhea. If you are in a stable relationship, your doctor may diagnose BV simply because of your symptoms, usually by the appearance and strong, fishy odor of your discharge.

Bacterial Vaginosis Treatment

Effective bacterial vaginosis treatment must be prescribed by a doctor. It is important to first confirm with a doctor whether you have bacterial vaginosis.

To begin bacterial vaginosis treatment, the first step is to speak with a doctor about your symptoms to obtain a proper diagnosis. You can see one of our PlushCare doctors as soon as today, so you don’t have to keep waiting with uncomfortable symptoms- find relief today.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

Here are some common bacterial vaginosis treatments that a doctor can prescribe:

Metronidazole Tablets

Oral antibiotics are usually the first line of treatment for bacterial vaginosis. Your doctor may give you a course of metronidazole tablets as an antibiotic prescription.

Metronidazole or Clindamycin Vaginal Gel

If you have experienced prior adverse side effects of metronidazole tablets, or prefer this treatment option, your doctor may prescribe a vaginal gel instead. Metronidazole gel or clindamycin vaginal cream can be inserted into the vagina and is  just as effective as taking the pill version.

Tinidazole Tablets

If you are allergic to metronidazole or have had an adverse reaction, you may be prescribed tinidazole as an alternative antibiotic treatment.  This medication is not recommended if you are pregnant.

If you have had recurrent bacterial infections, your doctor may want to take further tests to check for other possible infections. If you use a contraceptive device like an intrauterine device (IUD), your doctor may consider asking you to discontinue the use of your IUD until your condition can be resolved. There is some evidence that the use of an IUD can contribute to the overgrowth of vaginal bacteria that causes BV.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

How to Prevent Bacterial Vaginosis

There are several ways to prevent bacterial vaginosis, including home remedies for bacterial vaginosis that could help ease symptoms or prevent further infections. These natural remedies work best as preventative measures, but they are easy steps that you can take at home.

Some home remedies for bacterial vaginosis may be more effective than others, but the idea is to restore the natural pH balance of the bacteria in your vagina. These preventative measures target bacterial vaginosis causes. For bacterial vaginosis treatment, consult with a doctor.

You may consider the following preventative measures:

  • Cotton underwear – To help prevent a bacterial vaginal infection or help treat a current condition, consider using breathable cotton underwear and limit the use of wearing tight pants. Some types of underwear that are made from materials such as spandex are not breathable and can trap moisture.
  • Safe sex – Using condoms can help prevent your risk of getting an infection like bacterial vaginosis. Use a condom every time you have sex, especially when you have a new sexual partner. Having multiple sexual partners can increase your risk of infections and sexually transmitted diseases. Consider putting a condom on your partner’s penis before he touches your mouth, anus, or vagina.
  • Practice healthy hygiene – Keep your sex toys and vibrators clean by washing them after every use. Wipe yourself from front to back after you use the bathroom. This keeps contamination from your rectum getting into the sensitive areas of your vagina. When you clean your genital area, only use water. Do not use soap, a douche, or other vaginal cleansers. Consider limiting your use of baths and take a shower instead. When menstruating, change your tampon several times a day.
  • Get tested for STDs – If you are sexually active, consider seeing your doctor regularly to get tested for any sexually transmitted diseases, limit sex partners, and ask your sex partners to get tested too.
  • If bacterial vaginosis symptoms don’t go away, it is advisable to seek out the help of a medical professional to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Think you may have signs and symptoms of bacterial vaginosis? Book an appointment with a PlushCare doctor and get treatment today.


Read More About Bacterial Vaginosis & Women’s Health:


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Mayo Clinic. What is Bacterial Vaginosis? Accessed July 1, 2018 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352279

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial Vaginosis CDC Fact Sheet. Accessed July 1, 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/stdfact-bacterial-vaginosis.htm

Mayo Clinic. Yeast Infection (Vaginal) Accessed July 1, 2018 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20378999

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