Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a common infection of the vagina. It’s harmless and easily treated with antibiotics. It’s not classed as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

See a GP or sexual health clinic if your discharge:

  • has a strong fishy smell, particularly after sex - it can be white or grey and thin or watery

Sexual health clinics can help with bacterial vaginosis

Sexual health clinics treat problems with the genitals and urine system.

Many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service, where you don’t need an appointment. They’ll often get test results quicker than GP practices.

Find a sexual health clinic

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) doesn't usually cause any soreness or itching. If you’re unsure it’s BV check vaginal discharge.

What happens at your appointment

Your GP or sexual health clinic will want to confirm it's BV and rule out a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

You’ll be asked about your symptoms. If it’s not clear it’s BV:

  • a doctor or nurse might look at your vagina
  • a cotton bud may be wiped over the discharge inside your vagina to test for other infections

This won't hurt, but it might feel uncomfortable.

Treatment for bacterial vaginosis

BV is usually treated with antibiotic tablets or gel. These are prescribed by your GP or sexual health clinic.

If you’re pregnant, it’s often safe to use treatment.

Partners don’t need treatment, unless female partners have symptoms.

You can buy gels to treat BV at supermarkets and pharmacies but there’s no clear proof they work.

Recurring bacterial vaginosis

It's common for BV to come back, usually within 3 months.

You’ll need to take treatment for longer (for up to 6 months) if you keep getting BV (you get it more than twice in 6 months).

Your GP or sexual health clinic can help identify if something is triggering your BV, such as your period or sex. They will recommend how long you need to treat BV.

Things you can do yourself

To help relieve the symptoms and prevent BV from returning:

Do

  • use water and an emollient, such as E45 cream, or plain soap to wash your vagina
  • have showers instead of baths

Don't

  • use perfumed soaps, bubble bath or shower gel
  • use vaginal deodorants, washes or douches
  • put antiseptic liquids in the bath
  • use strong detergents to wash your underwear
  • smoke

What causes bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis happens when there’s a change in the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina. What causes this to happen isn’t fully known, but you're more likely to get it if:

  • you're sexually active
  • you've had a change of partner
  • you have an IUD (contraception device)
  • you use perfumed products on your vagina

BV is not classed as an STI, even though it can be triggered by sex. A woman can pass it to another women during sex. However, women who haven’t had sex can also get BV.

Bacterial vaginosis in pregnancy

If you develop BV in pregnancy, there’s a small risk of complications, such as premature birth or miscarriage.

However, BV causes no problems in the majority of pregnancies. Speak to your GP or midwife if you’re pregnant and your vaginal discharge changes.

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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