Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal condition caused by an overgrowth of normal bacteria in the vagina.

The vagina contains a mix of many different bacteria. In cases of BV, the number of certain bacteria increases, affecting the balance of chemicals in the vagina.

It is most common in women who use an intrauterine device (IUD), also known as a coil, for contraception and those who perform vaginal douching. These can upset the natural bacterial balance in your vagina, making it more likely that you will develop BV.

 Other BV causes include:

  • Using scented soaps or bubble baths
  • Using vaginal deodorant
  • Using strong detergents to wash your underwear

What are its symptoms?

About half of women with BV have no symptoms. In these cases, the condition does not pose any threat to your health and pregnancy.

BV does not usually cause any vaginal soreness or itching, but it often causes unusual vaginal discharge. If you have the condition, your discharge may:

  • Become thin and watery
  • Develop a strong fishy smell, particularly after sexual intercourse
  • Become a white or grey colour
  • Burning

Untreated, it may lead to complications.

How is it diagnosed?

Consult your doctor or gynaecologist if you notice any abnormal discharge from your vagina.

A typical bacterial vaginosis diagnosis will involve your doctor or gynaecologist asking questions about your symptoms and examining your vagina.

You may need further tests if you are sexually active, as you could have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) instead. 

Your doctor may recommend certain tests for BV, such as a vaginal pH test or a sample test of your discharge.

What are your treatment options?

BV can be successfully treated with antibiotics. An alternative is an antibiotic gel that you apply inside your vagina.

If you have an intrauterine device (IUD) that your doctor thinks may be contributing to your BV, they may recommend having it removed and using an alternative form of contraception.

Can it be prevented?

For BV prevention, the following steps may help:

  • Limit your number of sex partners
  • Avoid douching
  • Wash your underwear in mild detergent
  • Use condoms

BV may be contagious and passed between women during sexual contact. If you have a female sex partner, use protection and wash shared sex toys.

If you are exposed to an STI while you have bacterial vaginosis, you are more likely to get that infection. It is always important to practice safe sex to prevent sexually transmitted infections, whether or not you have BV. 

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Unprotected sex increases your risk of HIV/AIDS. Clicks offers HIV testing and counselling at our clinics, call 0860 254 257 or book with Clicks Clinics online to make an appointment.

Shop online at Clicks.co.za for condoms 

Don't be caught unawares – rather stock up on condoms here so that you can ensure you're practising safe sex at all times.

The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by physician Dr Thomas Blake in December 2015