Health Guide

Bacterial vaginosis

What is it?

  • Bacterial (bak-TEER-e-ull) vaginosis (vah-jin-O-sis) is an infection (in-FEK-shun) of the vagina. It is also known as "BV" and is one of the most common vaginal infections that affect women. BV is one type of a condition called vaginitis (vaj-i-NI-tis). Vaginitis is an inflammation (in-flah-MAY-shun) (swelling) of the vagina. A bacterial vaginosis infection is usually gone in five to seven days with treatment. You can get this infection more than once.
  • The bacteria that causes BV can sometimes infect the uterus (U-ter-us) (womb) and fallopian (fah-LOH-pee-an) tubes. This can lead to more serious infections that can affect pregnancy or make it harder for you to get pregnant. If you are pregnant, BV can cause you to have your baby early or with a low birth weight. BV can also cause you to have a miscarriage (lose your baby).
  • BV can increase a woman's chances of getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), like chlamydia (klah-MID-ee-ah) or gonorrhea (gon-oh-REE-ah). BV can also increase your chance of getting HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) if you have been exposed to the virus.


  • It is not known for sure what causes BV. The healthy vagina normally has many kinds of "good" germs. With BV, the number of good germs is changed. Bad germs may then move in and cause an infection. Many things can change the balance of germs in a healthy vagina.
  • You are more likely to get BV if you are sexually active. Women who are not sexually active may also get BV. Douching and using an intrauterine (in-trah-U-ter-in) device (IUD) may also increase your risk for BV.

Signs and Symptoms:

You may have a thin white, gray, or yellow-colored vaginal discharge with a "fishy" smell. You may notice the smell more after having sexual intercourse (sex). Other signs and symptoms may include itching and burning around the outside of the vagina. Some women may not have any symptoms at all.

Wellness Recommendations :

  • Keep your genital area clean and dry. Take showers instead of tub baths. Use plain, unscented soap.
  • Do not use feminine hygiene sprays or powders. You should not douche during treatment unless your caregiver wants you to douche. After the infection is cleared up, do not douche more than once a week.
  • Do not have sex while you are being treated. Otherwise, the infection could be passed back and forth between you and your partner.
  • Wear underpants and panty hose that have a cotton lining in the crotch.
  • After urinating and having a BM, wipe from front to back to keep from spreading germs.
  • Stay away from activities that make you sweaty, especially during hot, humid weather.

Medical Care:

Antibiotic medicine may be used to treat this infection. Your sex partner(s) may also need to be treated.

Dietary Measures:

  • Eating yogurt (which contains acidophilus) may help prevent BV.
  • Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables may help keep you healthy.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.


  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) taken by mouth has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have bacterial vaginosis.
  • Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) vaginally has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have bacterial vaginosis. Warning: only a 1% solution (1 drop tea tree oil in 99 drops of oil) should be used. Full strength tea tree oil can be harmful. If this causes problems, stop using it.


  • Lactobacillus ("friendly bacteria") taken by mouth and used vaginally may be helpful for bacterial vaginosis.

Other ways of treating your symptoms:

Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

Talk to your caregiver if:

  • You would like medicine to treat bacterial vaginosis.
  • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
  • You have vaginal bleeding that is not menstrual bleeding.
  • Your symptoms come back after treatment.
  • You have questions about what you have read in this document.

Care Agreement:

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


1. Parent D, Bossens M, Bayot D et al: Therapy of bacterial vaginosis using exogenously-applied Lactobacilli acidophili and a low dose of estriol. Arzneimittelforschung 1996; 46(1):68-73.

2. Shalev E, Battino S, Weiner E et al: Ingestion of yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus compared with pasteurized yogurt as prophylaxis for recurrent candidal vaginitis and bacterial vaginosis. Arch Fam Med 1996; 5(10):593-596.

Last Updated: 7/4/2018
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