bacterial vaginosis (BV)

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Office on Women's Health)

What is bacterial vaginosis (BV)?
The vagina normally has a balance of mostly "good" bacteria and fewer "harmful" bacteria. Bacterial vaginosis, known as BV, develops when the balance changes. With BV, there is an increase in harmful bacteria and a decrease in good bacteria. BV is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age.

What causes BV?
Not much is known about how women get BV. Any woman can get BV. But there are certain things that can upset the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina, raising your risk of BV:
-- douching
-- not using a condom
-- having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners
-- using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control

BV is more common among women who are sexually active, but it is not clear how sex changes the balance of bacteria.
You can NOT get BV from:
-- bedding
-- toilet seats
-- swimming pools
-- touching objects around you

What are the signs of BV?
Women with BV may have an abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor. Some women report a strong fish-like odor, especially after sex. The discharge can be white (milky) or gray. It may also be foamy or watery. Other symptoms may include burning when urinating, itching around the outside of the vagina, and irritation. These symptoms may also be caused by another type of infection, so it is important to see a doctor. Some women with BV have no symptoms at all.

How can I find out if I have BV?
There is a test to find out if you have BV. Your doctor takes a sample of fluid from your vagina and has it tested. Your doctor may also see signs of BV during an examination of the vagina.
You should follow the steps below in order to help your doctor find the signs of BV or other infections:
-- schedule the exam when you do not have your period.
-- do not douche for at least 24 hours before seeing your doctor. Experts suggest that women do not douche at all.
-- do not have sex or put objects, such as a tampon, in your vagina for at least 24 hours before going to the doctor.
-- do not use vaginal deodorant sprays. They might cover odors that are important for diagnosis. It may also lead to irritation.

How is BV treated?
BV is treated with antibiotic medicines prescribed by your doctor. Your doctor may give you either metronidazole or clindamycin. On the other hand, you can get BV again even after being treated.

How can I lower my risk of BV?
Experts are still figuring out the best way to prevent BV. But, there are steps you can take to lower your risk.
-- help keep your vaginal bacteria balanced. Wash your vagina and anus every day with mild soap. When you go to the bathroom, wipe from your vagina to your anus. Keep the area cool by wearing cotton or cotton-lined underpants. Avoid tight pants and skip the pantyhose in summer.
-- do not douche!! Douching removes some of the normal bacteria in the vagina that protects you from infection. This may raise your risk of BV. It may also make it easier to get BV again after treatment.
-- have regular pelvic exams. Talk with your doctor about how often you need exams, as well as STI tests. STI means sexually transmitted infection.