Bacterial Vaginosis and Menopause: What’s the Link?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection from an overgrowth of vaginal bacteria. Your vagina always has a basic amount of bacteria (called flora) that is healthy and natural. The increase of less common bacteria upsets the natural balance of the vagina and can cause uncomfortable symptoms.

BV is prevalent among women and has been identified as the most common cause of abnormal vaginal discharge. A study found that 23%–29% of women experience BV.

Risk factors for BV include having multiple sex partners, douching, pregnancy, and smoking. BV risk can increase around menopause for women due to hormonal changes.

This article discusses bacterial vaginosis in menopause and its causes and risk factors.

Menopause patient consulting with doctor


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Bacterial Vaginosis and Menopause

Bacterial vaginosis is very common among women from puberty to menopause. During menopause, women undergo changes in their hormone levels. BV can appear for the first time or return as your childbearing years end.

About 1 in 4 women in the United States will experience BV, which is much more common in Black and Hispanic women than in White and Asian women. The risk of BV increases with age and with previous BV diagnoses.

Beneficial vaginal bacteria thrive in environments with estrogen. As estrogen levels drop in menopause, good bacteria levels can also decrease, which increases the risk of developing BV. Overall, your risk for BV appears to increase as you age.

Bacterial Vaginosis Causes

Many attempts have been made to understand what causes harmful bacteria to overtake the normal flora. The cause of BV remains unknown.

The bacteria that cause BV can vary widely. One theory is that the environment of the vagina changes to allow the overgrowth that causes BV. Individual immune systems factor into it too.

Some risk factors for BV include:

  • Multiple sex partners (at one time or over a long time)
  • Sex without a condom
  • Douching (rinsing or washing the vagina)

Along with menopause, both intrauterine device (IUD) use and pregnancy can also increase your chances of developing BV. As well, female sexual partners sometimes share BV back and forth.

How to Prevent BV

There are no proven methods to prevent BV. However, some of the factors that increase your chance of getting BV are ones in your control. Some things that may help lower your risk for BV include:

  • Not having sexual intercourse
  • Limiting the number of sexual partners
  • Not using vaginal douches
  • Properly using condoms with every sexual encounter

For women who are entering perimenopause, research suggests that there may be some additional ways you can prevent BV. Probiotics may be helpful in some cases. However, these are not right for every person, so check with your healthcare provider before starting any medications or supplements.

If you develop BV, be sure to see your healthcare provider. Untreated, BV can cause severe complications, such as increasing your risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or problems with your pregnancy.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Many women with BV have no symptoms at all, but you can have one or many symptoms. Common symptoms include:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • A fishy odor (especially after sex)
  • Burning when peeing (urinating)
  • Itching in or near the vagina
  • Irritation of the vagina

The symptoms of BV might be similar to other medical issues, including yeast infections, which are caused by fungi. If you have any symptoms, see your medical provider for a diagnosis and proper treatment.

Diagnosis

BV can only be diagnosed by a healthcare provider. Typically, your provider will collect a sample from your vagina using a swab and send it to the lab. Depending on the results of the tests, you may be diagnosed with BV.

Sometimes, the lab will culture the vaginal fluid to see what bacteria are growing there.

Getting Treatment

BV is highly treatable. Approximately 80%–90% of BV cases are cured within one month. However, more than half of those may return within the first year. Treatment for male sex partners of women with BV is not recommended.

In the United States, treatment is recommended only for people with symptoms of BV. Antibiotics are a common BV treatment. These medications kill off the harmful bacteria and help to restore the balance of bacteria in the vagina. Flagyl (metronidazole) or Cleocin (clindamycin) are often used.

Summary

Bacterial vaginosis is a common health condition that can happen to women at any age. Sometimes, BV can start or worsen during the hormonal changes leading to menopause. You can adjust a few risk factors to reduce your risk of developing BV. In many cases, BV is highly treatable with medications. See your healthcare provider for a diagnosis if you notice any unusual vaginal discharge or other symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

Vaginal discharge and odor can be sensitive and concerning issues. Medical professionals are trained to listen to and address your concerns with compassion and privacy. Do not hesitate to let your provider know if you have symptoms of BV or similar health issues. Treatment is effective and important in maintaining your overall health.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can low estrogen cause BV?

    Estrogen helps keep the environment optimized for good vaginal bacteria. Low estrogen can increase the risk of developing BV.

  • How can I prevent BV after menopause?

    Some healthcare providers recommend probiotics to help reduce the risk of BV after menopause. Check with your healthcare team about your specific health situation.

  • What causes BV to flare up?

    The exact cause of BV is unknown. However, there are several factors that can increase your chances of developing BV.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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