Bacterial vaginosis is a type of vaginal inflammation that results from the overgrowth of one of several types of bacteria normally present in the vagina, upsetting the natural balance of vaginal bacteria.
Women in their reproductive years are most commonly affected by bacterial vaginosis, but any woman can experience the condition. Doctors don't know exactly why bacterial vaginosis develops, but certain activities, such as unprotected sexual intercourse or frequent douching, put you at higher risk of the condition.
Bacterial vaginosis signs and symptoms may include:
However, many women with bacterial vaginosis have no signs or symptoms at all.
When to see a doctor
Bacterial vaginosis results from an overgrowth of one of several organisms normally present in your vagina. Usually, "good" bacteria (lactobacilli) outnumber "bad" bacteria (anaerobes) in your vagina. But if anaerobic bacteria become too numerous, they upset the natural balance of microorganisms in your vagina, resulting in bacterial vaginosis.
Risk factors for bacterial vaginosis include:
Generally, bacterial vaginosis doesn't cause complications. But under certain circumstances, having bacterial vaginosis may lead to:
Preparing for your appointment
So that your primary care doctor or gynecologist can observe and evaluate any vaginal discharge you have, don't schedule your appointment during your period. Avoid using tampons and vaginal deodorant sprays, and don't douche or have sex for 24 hours before your appointment.
What you can do
For bacterial vaginosis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment if you don't understand something.
Questions your doctor may ask
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose bacterial vaginosis, your doctor may:
Treatments and drugs
To treat bacterial vaginosis, your doctor may prescribe one of the following medications:
Generally, it's not necessary to treat a woman's male sexual partner, but bacterial vaginosis can spread between female sexual partners. Female partners should seek testing and, if indicated, treatment of bacterial vaginosis. It's especially important for pregnant women with symptoms to be treated, as this may decrease the risk of premature delivery or low birth weight.
Take your medicine or use the cream or gel for as long as your doctor prescribes it — even if your symptoms go away. Stopping treatment early may increase the likelihood of recurrence.
A self-help approach is lactobacillus colonization therapy — which attempts to boost the number of good bacteria in your vagina and re-establish a balanced vaginal environment — possibly accomplished by eating certain types of yogurt or other foods containing lactobacilli. However, research to determine the benefits and risks of probiotic therapy is lacking.
To help prevent bacterial vaginosis:
Last Updated: 2013-04-20
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