Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

BV is a common condition which happens when the balance of bacteria inside the vagina becomes disrupted and can cause unusual vaginal discharge.

What causes it?

The vagina naturally contains many different bacteria. When the number of certain bacteria increases, the balance of chemicals is disrupted and can cause BV.

Although BV is not an STI, you are at a higher risk of developing the condition if you are sexually active or if you smoke.


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

BV does not usually cause any vaginal soreness or itching.

It usually affects vaginal discharge. Discharge could:

  • develop a strong fishy smell, particularly after sexual intercourse
  • become a white or grey colour
  • become thin and watery.

Long term effects

BV is not serious for the vast majority of women.


BV can usually be successfully treated using a short course of antibiotic tablets or an antibiotic gel that you apply inside your vagina. You can get treatment from your GP, local sexual health clinic and in pharmacies.

Pregnant women who have symptoms should get prompt treatment as BV can cause complications and has also been linked to a risk of miscarriage.

It is common for BV to recur. More than half of women successfully treated for BV will find their symptoms return, usually within three months. Women who have frequent episodes of BV may be referred to a genitourinary medicine (GUM) specialist.

Telling your partner

Bacterial Vaginosis is not sexually transmitted. It is up to you whether you tell your partner.

How to avoid BV

Although the causes of BV are not well understood, it can be useful to avoid anything that could upset the natural bacterial balance in your vagina, such as using scented soaps, bubble baths, vaginal deodorant or strong washing detergent, or performing vaginal douching (cleaning out the vagina).

Having sex with a condom can sometimes help as the semen does not go into the vagina.

Where to get tested

You can get tested for BV at a sexual health clinic or by your GP.

Your sexual health clinician will ask you about your symptoms and they may examine your vagina. In some cases, a small sample of vaginal discharge will be taken using a plastic loop or swab so it can be examined for signs of BV.


This may be at your sexual health clinic or local hospital.

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No, BV does not affect fertility.

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They will be able to tell if you have symptoms of infection but not if you don’t. BV is not a sexually transmitted infection. It is therefore up to you whether you tell your partner.

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No, BV is an imbalance of natural bacteria levels in the vagina. This does not affect men.

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