Bacterial Vaginosis

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Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common condition in which the balance of bacteria inside the vagina becomes disrupted.

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Bacterial Vaginosis

What is Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a very common cause of an abnormal vaginal discharge.

Those with BV have an imbalance among the normal bacteria that are usually found in the vagina.

It is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and can be easily treated with antibiotics.

The vagina normally contains mostly ‘good‘ bacteria (called lactobacilli) which keep the vaginal fluid mildly acidic, and fewer ‘bad’ bacteria (called anaerobes).

BV develops when there is an increase in the number of ‘bad’ bacteria and the chemistry of the vaginal fluid is disturbed and becomes more alkaline.

How could I get BV?

It is unclear what leads to these changes in the levels of bacteria that cause BV.

BV isn’t classified as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but you’re at a higher risk of developing the condition if you’re sexually active. There’s evidence that having BV can make you more at risk of catching STIs such as chlamydia. This is possible because the change in bacteria levels inside the vagina reduces the protection against infection.

If you have BV you may be able to pass the condition to sexual partners if they have a vagina, although it’s not clear how this happens. There’s no evidence to suggest the bacteria causing BV can affect male sexual partners.

There are also a number of other factors that can increase your risk of developing BV, including:

  • using scented soaps or bubble baths
  • having an  intrauterine device (IUD) fitted
  • using vaginal deodorant

BV is more common in women who use a coil for contraception and those who perform vaginal douching (cleaning out the vagina).

How can I avoid getting BV?

The causes of BV aren’t fully understood, so it’s not possible to prevent it completely. However, you may be able to lower your risk of developing the condition if you:=

  • Avoid using scented soaps, perfumed bubble bath and antiseptic bath liquids
  • Avoid using vaginal deodorant
  • Avoid vaginal douching
  • Avoid using strong detergents to wash your underwear
  • Use condoms when having penetrative sex, either by penis or sharing sex toys or by using dams if having oral sex

What are the symptoms?

Vaginal soreness or itching does not usually occur although there is often a vaginal discharge. The discharge may:

  • Develop a strong fishy smell, particularly after sexual intercourse
  • Become white or grey
  • Become thin and watery

Around half of those with BV show no symptoms.

How is it treated?

Visit a sexual health clinic (we run specific LBTQ clinics) if you notice any abnormal discharge from your vagina (especially if pregnant). It’s essential to get this checked to rule out other infections and prevent complications.

BV can usually be successfully treated using a short course of antibiotic tablets or an antibiotic gel you apply inside your vagina.

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