Can Bacterial Vaginosis Cause Infertility?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common bacterial infection in women. It occurs when the balance of bacteria in the vagina changes. When there are more harmful bacteria than good bacteria in the vagina, bacterial vaginosis can occur. 

Bacterial vaginosis raises the risk of premature birth and low-birth-weight babies in pregnant women. It is also common in women experiencing infertility. One review found that up to 19% of women experiencing infertility have bacterial vaginosis. 

This article will provide an overview of bacterial vaginosis and how it affects fertility. 

Couple discusses infertility with healthcare provider

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What Is Bacterial Vaginosis? 

Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal condition in women ages 15 to 44. It is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and women who are not sexually active can get it. 

Lactobacilli is a good bacteria in the vagina and helps to maintain normal vaginal microflora. When the number of harmful bacteria starts to outnumber lactobacilli, an infection can occur. 

It’s important to note that about half of people with bacterial vaginosis do not experience any symptoms. In those who do, symptoms can include:

Telling the Difference

Bacterial Vaginosis
  • Caused by bacterial imbalance

  • Milky vaginal discharge

  • Fishlike odor

  • Burning with urination

  • Vaginal itching and irritation

  • Treated with antibiotics

Yeast Infection
  • Caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida

  • Vaginal discharge the consistency of cottage cheese

  • No smell to discharge

  • Pain with urination

  • Vaginal redness and swelling

  • Treated with antifungals

Can Bacterial Vaginosis Cause Infertility? 

Bacterial vaginosis has been linked with infertility. This is significant because the infection is so common. Bacterial vaginosis affects about 29% of women of reproductive age in the United States. 

Research shows that bacterial vaginosis affects women experiencing infertility. A study found that women undergoing infertility were 3.3 times more likely to have bacterial vaginosis than those who were able to conceive naturally.

The connection between bacterial vaginosis and infertility is especially strong in women experiencing tubal infertility. This occurs when the fallopian tubes are blocked due to scarring, tissue damage, or infection.

When left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can raise the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), known to cause tubal infertility. Bacterial vaginosis also increases the risk of contracting chlamydia and gonorrhea. Both of these STIs can lead to infertility. 

Both chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause infertility in women. It's important for all sexually active women younger than age 25 or women over 25 with risk factors to get annual chlamydia and gonorrhea screenings.

Can Bacterial Vaginosis Affect Pregnancy?

Bacterial vaginosis does affect pregnant women. This infection raises the risk of premature birth and low-birth-weight babies when left untreated. Fortunately, it is safe for pregnant women to be treated with antibiotics to cure the infection. 

Bacterial Vaginosis and Miscarriage 

There is a link between bacterial vaginosis and miscarriage. One study found that bacterial vaginosis may increase the risk of second-trimester miscarriage in pregnant women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). If you develop symptoms of bacterial vaginosis during your pregnancy, talk with your healthcare provider immediately. 

How to Break the Cycle of Bacterial Vaginosis

To break the cycle of bacterial vaginosis, focus on treating the infection and preventing them in the future. To treat bacterial vaginosis: 

  • See your healthcare provider.
  • Take the prescribed antibiotics exactly as directed.
  • Avoid sexual activity until the infection is resolved.
  • Alert any female sexual partners of your infection.
  • Follow up if symptoms don’t improve.

To lower the risk of bacterial vaginosis:

  • Use only warm water to clean the outside of your vagina.
  • Avoid soaps, even mild ones, because they can irritate. 
  • Wear cotton underwear.
  • Refrain from douching.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners. 

Tips for Good Vaginal Health 

Good vaginal health and hygiene can help to reduce your risk of bacterial vaginosis. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Simple cleaning: Do not use soap or douching products when washing your vagina. Warm water is all you need. 
  • Stay hydrated: Drink water throughout the day to help your body stay hydrated and flush out harmful bacteria. 
  • Healthy eating: Give your body the nutrients it needs to fight infections with plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and fiber. 
  • Preventive health care: See your healthcare provider regularly and alert them if you develop any new symptoms. 

Summary

Bacterial vaginosis is a common infection in women and occurs when the balance of bacteria in the vagina changes. When there are more harmful bacteria than good bacteria in the vagina, bacterial vaginosis can occur. Bacterial vaginosis has been linked to infertility as its more likely to be found in women experiencing infertility than in the general public. Bacterial vaginosis may also raise the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, and low-birth-weight babies in pregnant women. 

A Word From Verywell

Going through infertility is exhausting and overwhelming. If bacterial vaginosis contributes to your infertility, know that this infection can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Ask your healthcare provider about being tested for bacterial vaginosis.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can bacterial vaginosis cause a miscarriage?

    Bacterial vaginosis raises the risk of miscarriage, as well as premature birth and low-birth-weight babies. This infection can be safely treated during pregnancy, however. 

  • Is bacterial vaginosis a sexually transmitted infection?

    No, bacterial vaginosis is not an STI. People who are not sexually active can get bacterial vaginosis. 

  • Can bacterial vaginosis affect men?

    No, men are not affected by vaginosis. If a man’s female partner has bacterial vaginosis, the man will not develop symptoms and does not require treatment. 

  • Does bacterial vaginosis kill sperm?

    There is no scientific evidence to conclude that bacterial vaginosis kills sperm. Bacterial vaginosis is associated with infertility for other reasons. 

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. Office on Women’s Health. Bacterial vaginosis.

  2. van Oostrum N, De Sutter P, Meys J, Verstraelen H. Risks associated with bacterial vaginosis in infertility patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Hum Reprod. 2013 Jul;28(7):1809-15. doi:10.1093/humrep/det096

  3. Ravel J, Moreno I, Simón C. Bacterial vaginosis and its association with infertility, endometritis, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2021 Mar;224(3):251-257. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2020.10.019

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Which std tests should I get?

  5. Işik G, Demirezen Ş, Dönmez HG, Beksaç MS. Bacterial vaginosis in association with spontaneous abortion and recurrent pregnancy losses. J Cytol. 2016;33(3):135-140. doi:10.4103/0970-9371.188050

Additional Reading

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.