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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Bacterial Vaginosis

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Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is the name of a condition in women where the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted and replaced by an overgrowth of certain bacteria. It is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age.

Not much is known about how women get BV. While it is more common in women who are sexually active, it also occurs in women who are not sexually active. However, some activities or behaviors can upset the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina and put women at increased risk including:

  • Having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners,
  • Douching, and
  • Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception.

Symptoms of BV include: abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor or a strong fish–like odor, especially after intercourse; discharge (usually white or gray, can be thin), burning during urination, or itching around the outside of the vagina. Some women with BV report no signs or symptoms at all.

In order to diagnose BV, a health care provider must examine the vagina for signs of BV and perform laboratory tests on a sample of vaginal fluid to look for bacteria associated with BV.

BV is treatable with antibiotics prescribed by a health care provider. It can be treated in one of several ways. Your health care provider may prescribe pills for you to take by mouth, or a cream or gel to put in your vagina. It's important to use your medicine exactly as it was prescribed. If you are prescribed metronidazole (brand name: Flagyl), don't drink any alcohol while taking the medicine or for 24 hours afterward. Combining alcohol with these medicines can cause nausea and vomiting. Even the small amount of alcohol in many cough syrups can cause nausea and vomiting if you're taking metronidazole. Also, be sure to tell your health care provider about any other medicines you are currently taking. BV can recur after treatment so your provider may discuss returning for a follow-up visit.