Bacterial Vaginosis: Symptoms and Complications

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Bacterial vaginosis (BV), sometimes called vaginitis, is an inflammation or infection of the vagina that is common during the reproductive years. BV develops when too much of certain types of bacteria grows in the vagina. This bacteria exists normally in your vagina, and the inflammation only occurs if you have an imbalance.

If you have BV, you may or may not have symptoms. Bacterial vaginosis is usually mild and doesn’t cause any health concerns, but it can occasionally lead to complications if left untreated.

Read on to learn more about what BV signs to watch out for.

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Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms

Bacterial vaginosis can go undetected, but some people do experience symptoms. They are similar to those of yeast infections, but the underlying cause is due to an overgrowth of bacteria rather than yeast.

Some common symptoms of BV include:

  • Vaginal discharge (abnormal discharge may be white or grey)
  • Vaginal odor (bacteria can create a bad odor that smells like fish)
  • Vaginal itching
  • Discomfort when urinating

BV vs. Yeast Infection Symptoms

The primary difference in symptoms between bacterial vaginosis and a yeast infection is in the discharge. In BV, the discharge is thin; in a yeast infection, it is thick. BV tends to have a fishy odor, and a yeast infection does not. Another difference is that BV does not typically cause as much pain while urinating as a yeast infection.

Complications of Bacterial Vaginosis

While there are only a few severe complications of bacterial vaginosis, you should be aware that it can lead to:

  • Higher susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), even though BV is not an STI
  • Pregnancy risk of premature delivery and low birth weight
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease in the uterus and fallopian tubes
  • Higher risk of infection after gynecologic surgery

If you have had BV in the past, be sure to inform your healthcare provider so they can assess any future risk.

When to See a Doctor for BV

If you have symptoms of BV and they are becoming bothersome, contact your healthcare provider.

If you are pregnant and have symptoms, you should also contact your OB-GYN (a doctor who specializes in women’s health and childbirth), because BV is sometimes linked to pre-term birth or other complications when left untreated.

Bacterial vaginosis can also make you more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections.

To treat BV, your healthcare provider can prescribe antibiotics in pill or topical form. The most common options include:

  • Flagyl (metronidazole): Comes in a pill or cream form
  • Clindamycin cream: Inserted into the vagina with an applicator

If your BV recurs, you should contact your healthcare provider.

Summary

Bacterial vaginosis is an inflammatory infection of the vagina. The primary symptoms include vaginal discharge (white or grey), vaginal odor, vaginal itching, and pain when urinating. In rare instances, BV can lead to complications, so if you experience these symptoms, contact a healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Bacterial vaginosis can be an uncomfortable condition. Unfortunately, it is quite common. If you experience BV symptoms that don’t go away, contact your healthcare provider, especially if you are pregnant. Treatment options available for BV can help clear up the infection and relieve symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How did I get bacterial vaginosis?

    The cause of the imbalance that leads to bacterial vaginosis is unclear, but it is most common among people who are sexually active. Other risk factors include being pregnant, using an IUD, douching, and obtaining new or multiple sexual partners.

  • Is bacterial vaginosis contagious?

    Bacterial vaginosis is not contagious. However, if you have BV, you are more susceptible to getting other sexually transmitted infections, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, or trichomoniasis, which can be passed on to others.

  • Can bacterial vaginosis go away on its own?

    BV will often go away on its own within a few days, but it also tends to come back. If you take antibiotics to treat BV, the symptoms may disappear within a day or two, but it’s important to take the full course of pills, which is usually seven days.

  • What happens if bacterial vaginosis goes untreated?

    Generally, bacterial vaginosis doesn’t cause other health problems. However, if you don’t treat it, you are more likely to get a sexually transmitted infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, or have complications during pregnancy.

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5 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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial vaginosis: CDC fact sheet. Updated July 22, 2021.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Bacterial vaginosis. Updated June 5, 2020.

  3. Allsworth JE, Peipert JF. Severity of bacterial vaginosis and the risk of sexually transmitted infectionAm J Obstet Gynecol. 2011;205(2):113.e1-113.e6. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2011.02.060

  4. US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for bacterial vaginosis in pregnant persons to prevent preterm delivery: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statementJAMA. 2020;323(13):1286. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.2684

  5. Shimaoka M, Yo Y, Doh K, et al. Association between preterm delivery and bacterial vaginosis with or without treatmentSci Rep. 2019;9(1):509. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-36964-2