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About bacterial vaginosis


Bacterial vaginosis (BV) causes an increased vaginal discharge that has an unpleasant smell which is often described as ‘fishy’. The smell is usually more noticeable after sex and during a period. It is the smell of BV that women report as being particularly distressing for them. The colour of the discharge is unchanged and there usually isn’t any vaginal soreness or itching.


BV is the most common cause of abnormal discharge and up to a third of women will get it at some time in their lives. We do not know exactly why BV occurs but we do know that there is a change in the balance of the vaginal bacteria with a reduction in the ‘good’ bacteria that protect against infections and an increase in many other bacteria.


BV can be diagnosed and treated at Sexual Health Clinics or in General Practice. A doctor or nurse can diagnose BV by asking about your symptoms and doing some tests in the clinic or by sending a sample of vaginal discharge to a laboratory.


The most common treatment used is an oral antibiotic tablet, but antibiotic vaginal creams are also available. A single course of treatment may clear BV but unfortunately it may recur quite quickly. Studies have shown that about one in five women get BV back within one month of taking the tablets and this increases to about half of women getting a recurrence by six months. Recurrences of BV are usually treated with the same antibiotics meaning that some women need to use regular antibiotic treatments for a number of months. This is why non-antibiotic treatments would be better alternatives.


BV isn't serious in most women but it does make women more susceptible to catching sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, as well as HIV and pelvic inflammatory disease. If women have BV when they are pregnant, it can increase the risk of them having a miscarriage or delivering prematurely.


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