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What is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection caused by an imbalance in the vaginal fauna which allows bad bacteria to proliferate. Depending on the severity of the infection and the bacteria behind the infection, a woman may experience an assortment of symptoms, or she may be totally asymptomatic. Often, the condition runs its course without intervention, but medical treatment is recommended if the condition persists, as this condition can have serious complications.

This condition is not considered a sexually transmitted infection, and sometimes there is no apparent cause. Certain sexual activities do seem to put women at greater risk of bacterial vaginosis, but it can also be linked with douching, and sometimes radical dietary changes as well. It has also been connected with poor hygiene and tight clothing in the groin area, and pregnant women are more likely to get this condition. BV is the most common type of vaginal infection.

A typical case of bacterial vaginosis makes itself known in the form of a thick, unpleasant smelling discharge, along with itching, burning, and pain. Because these symptoms can also be linked with yeast infections, it's a good idea to go to a doctor to get a formal diagnosis of BV, to ensure that you take the right approach to treatment. Even if you have had this condition before, you should still see a doctor to confirm.

If the condition does not clear up on its own, antibiotics can be prescribed to kill the bacteria. Some women also find that taking acidophilus supplements or eating yogurt with live active cultures can help to treat the condition, as well as preventing it in the future. Direct application of yogurt to the vagina can also be effective, as long as the yogurt is plain and unsweetened, with active cultures.

Left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can spread, infecting the fallopian tubes and potentially causing fertility problems in the future. Because of the potential for spreading and confusion with other conditions, seeing a doctor is crucial, as he or she can make sure that the right treatment is used. This condition also increases a woman's risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV, because the tissue is irritated and sensitive, making it even more paramount to seek medical treatment.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Eva22 — On Sep 27, 2013

A hydrogen peroxide douche kills BV instantly. This treatment absolutely works - the scientific study is conclusive. Look up the study concerning hydrogen peroxide and bacterial vaginosis.

The medical industry knows it works, yet there's no money in hydrogen peroxide, is there? They are well aware that the real cures are out there without resorting to antibiotics which are extremely damaging to our immune systems. The antibiotic prescribed for BV is metronidazole, which has been long since linked to cancer. Did you know that as soon as an individual is diagnosed with cancer, they immediately become worth more than $300, 000 to the industry? It's a sick, sick system. Good luck everyone.

By anon347515 — On Sep 07, 2013

Can you catch an infection by wearing dirty panties over and over without washing them?

By shell4life — On Jan 18, 2012

@anamur – I have tried applying yogurt, but I wouldn't recommend it. It only made me itch worse, because what I needed were strong antibiotics.

I applied the yogurt to a tampon and inserted it that way. This got it where it needed to go, but by the time I applied it, I was already itching so bad that nothing short of strong medication could remedy my bacterial vaginosis.

I would suggest eating a carton of yogurt a day, rather than inserting it. It's much more pleasant, and it would have a better effect if it is absorbed into your bloodstream, rather than into your skin.

By wavy58 — On Jan 17, 2012

@seag47 – I love acidophilus pills, because they have kept me away from the doctor for the past few years. I used to get frequent flareups of bacterial vaginosis, but since I have been taking the pills, I have been symptom-free.

Like you, I would have a terrible odor. I tried wearing disposable panty liners, but this only seemed to intensify the smell. Also, it made me itch even more.

Once I started taking a pill a day, I stopped having that odor. As an added benefit, it regulated my digestive system, so I no longer feel bloated.

Acidophilus pills are a great preventive measure to take. You do need to keep them refrigerated, so you will probably need to take one before you leave for work.

By seag47 — On Jan 17, 2012

I think I have been having episodes of bacterial vaginosis. They go away on their own, but while they are active, they are very bothersome.

I only have one symptom, but it is terrible. My discharge smells like fish. It is so overpowering that I change underwear at midday, because I fear that people around me might be able to smell it.

I have had to buy extra underwear to keep up with all the changing. I have to keep a plastic ziplock bag in my purse to hold the dirty underwear.

I have been thinking of trying acidophilus pills, because I hate the taste of yogurt. Has anyone here tried acidophilus pills? Do they work?

By serenesurface — On Jan 16, 2012

Has anyone used yogurt to treat bacterial vaginosis?

I'm really curious about how this works because I read on an old forum that this treatment worked for several women with BV. I have no idea how the yogurt would be applied though. Is it a topical application or does it need to be injected with something like a douche nozzle?

Wouldn't this be irritating though? I certainly feel uncomfortable just thinking about it. And if the goal is to apply acidophilus to the vagina, why can't we use acidophilus powder instead?

By kylee07drg — On Jan 15, 2012

Back when I used to swim in a dirty lake all summer long, I seemed to keep a yeast infection the whole time. One year, I went to my doctor four times to get treatment, and she determined that I had bacterial vaginosis instead of just a yeast infection. She gave me antibiotics and a cream to treat the exterior itching and burning.

She told me that organisms living in the lake might be causing my condition. I told her that I loved swimming too much to give it up, so she suggested that I simply shower and change out of my wet swimsuit into dry, cotton clothes as soon as possible. I had a habit of just sitting on the beach and at the picnic table in my wet swimsuit for hours, so I quit doing that, and it seemed to help.

By candyquilt — On Jan 15, 2012

@anon41031-- That's what I want to know too. I've had BV for a while now. I've used three different types of antibiotics. They've all been able to clear it but unfortunately, the infection comes back after I finish the antibiotics.

My doctor told me not to worry about it and said that there aren't any risks associated with it. But from what I've learned from this article and elsewhere, it is definitely dangerous to leave BV untreated. The infection can spread elsewhere in the pelvic area. Bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy is also dangerous because it can cause early labor and premature birth.

So it definitely seems like something that needs to be take care of. I'm going to another doctor next week about it to see what she says.

By ElizaBennett — On Jan 14, 2012

Another option for treating recurring bacterial vaginosis is a hydrogen peroxide wash. A study found that it was as effective (or maybe more effective) as antibiotics for even those really stubborn BV infections.

The nice thing about hydrogen peroxide is that not only does it kill off the bacteria, it helps restore the natural pH of your vagina and encourages the "good" microorganisms to grow back.

Again, ask your doctor - I think it might actually be something that they do there in the office.

By MissDaphne — On Jan 13, 2012

@julievh - simrin is right about going back to your doctor. They may have been using a simple test like the "whiff test" (not making that up) which won't determine that exact bacteria.

What you need is a DNA test. This will take a sample and really figure out exactly what your problem is - unusual bacteria, yeast, etc. It takes 24 hours to get the results; they will call you and tell you what they've prescribed.

It's also possible that your bacterial vaginosis treatment has been successful! Harsh treatments can damage the lining of your vagina and you may experience discomfort while it heals. That's something else your doctor can tell you - whether you are really still infected, or just in the healing process.

By SteamLouis — On Jan 13, 2012

@julievh-- I suggest that you visit your doctor again and ask for the test that can determine the kind of bacteria that is causing your infection.

I was in the same situation several months ago with recurrent bacterial vaginosis that wouldn't respond to the antibiotic that my doctor prescribed. When I went back, my doctor said that they will take a sample and determine exactly which bacteria was causing the infection.

Once that was determined, he prescribed another antibiotic for me, one that is made to target this bacteria and that finally worked.

I think doctors tend to automatically prescribe several antibiotics for BV because those are the most commonly seen bacteria. But sometimes the infection is caused by something different and those antibiotics don't work.

Also, from my experience, I've seen that reducing or cutting out sugar from my diet helps considerably for BV. It must have to do with bacteria feeding on sugars or something.

By julievh — On May 19, 2011

I have bv and have been on Flagyl twice and Microgel once with no success. What suggestions would you have for me?

By anon41031 — On Aug 12, 2009

how bad can it get?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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