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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common cause of vaginal infection in women of child-bearing age - those between 15 and 44 years old. It is not classed as a sexually transmitted infection although it is more likely to occur if you are sexually active, especially with a new partner. Having BV can also increase your chances of developing a sexually transmitted infection.

BV is usually harmless and can be triggered by sex or your period. It can also be triggered by overwashing or douching (washing inside of the vagina). This is because overwashing can clear away the good bacteria, allowing for bad bacteria to grow.

Doctor’s advice

When should I see my doctor?

Up to 1 in every 2 women with BV don't have any symptoms. You may however notice a change to the colour or smell of your discharge. BV is commonly reported to be a strong fishy smell, worse after sex, with a thin watery greyish consistency. It does not usually cause soreness or itching, unless in combination with another infection.

If you have vaginal or urinary symptoms associated with sexual activity, it's best to attend a sexual health clinic or GUM clinic. Here you can be checked for all sexually transmitted infections, and they offer you quicker appointments, with faster results than your doctor's practice.

What will the nurse or doctor do?

The specialist nurse or doctor will ask you about your symptoms and intimate questions regarding your sexual history. It is important to be open and honest with them so that they can identify and manage any infections you may have.

A swab (a stick with a soft cotton bud at the tip) is used to sample any vaginal discharge. This can be tested straight away or sent away to the lab for confirmation.

Is it contagious?

BV is not contagious if your partner is of the opposite sex. However, in same-sex relationships, we usually advise that both people get treatment.

BV can occur in conjunction with other infections caught through sexual contact, so it's always important to get sexual health checks every time you have a new partner, or every couple of years with a regular partner.

How is it treated?

You can try treating this yourself with a neutralising cream, such as Balance Activ or Canesbalance. If symptoms aren't resolving or symptoms are sever, a doctor can provide you treatment if BV is confirmed, usually in the form of oral antibiotics.

It's common for BV to return within three months. If you get it more than twice in six months, you may need longer treatment: your local sexual health clinic or doctor can help with this.

To reduce the chances of BV returning, it's best to wash only the outside of your vaginal, with plain soap and water, and where possible to have showers instead of baths. You should avoid fragranced or scented shower or bath products, or use any vaginal products in your intimate area. It is beneficial to stop smoking, and also to avoid long periods of wearing non-breathable clothing such as lycra or workout gear.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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