Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial Vaginosis is an imbalance of the normal bacteria found in a woman’s vagina, it can cause an abnormal discharge and an unpleasant fishy smell.

Bacterial Vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection, however it can increase your risk of catching an STI such as Chlamydia.

Good bacteria called Lactobacilli live naturally on the vagina and stop other bacteria from growing there. Sometimes the balance of the good and bad bacteria can change which can lead to Bacterial Vaginosis.

It is not fully understood what causes this imbalance to happen. However there are things which increase a woman's risk of getting bacterial vaginosis:

  • Being sexually active
  • A change of partner or have multiple partners
  • Contraception called an Intrauterine Device (IUD)
  • Using perfumed products inside or around the vagina
  • Smoking
  • Using antiseptic products in the bath
  • Using strong detergents to wash underwear

Although Bacterial Vaginosis is not an STI, it can be passed on from woman to woman during sex.

Often there are no symptoms and Bacterial Vaginosis does not usually cause irritation or itching.

Some women notice a change in the normal discharge from the vagina, this will usually be the colour white or grey, thin and watery and also have a strong fishy smell. This can be more noticable during or after sex as well as during periods.

Developing bacterial vaginosis while pregnant can lead to complications such as premature birth or misscarriage, luckily these cases are rare but the risk still exists.

For this reason you should speak to your doctor or health professional if you are pregnant and have unusual vaginal discharge.

If you think you may have Bacterial Vaginosis you should visit your doctor or sexual health clinic. 

The doctor or nurse will collect a sample of the discharge from your vagina with a cotton bud, this will not be painful.

A special type of paper may also be used to check for the PH (acid/alkaline balance) of the discharge.

A diagnosis can be made straight away in some cases if the symptoms are obvious, otherwise the sample will need to be sent away for testing.

Usual treatment involves the use of antibiotic creams, gels or tablets. These will need to be prescribed by a doctor or sexual health clinic.

Same sex partners may also need to be treated.

If you are pregnant then make sure you mention this to your doctor as it may affect the treatment you receive.

It is not yet fully understood what causes Bacterial Vaginosis, so it may not be possible to completely avoid getting it. You can however lower your risk by:

  • Not using perfumed bubble bath and/or scented soaps 
  • Not using vaginal deodorant
  • Not washing or cleaning out the vagina
  • Not using antiseptic liquids in the bath
  • Not using strong detergent when cleaning underwear
  • Not smoking
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