Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a mild
infection in the vagina. It develops when there's an imbalance between the "good"
bacteria in the vagina that are helpful and the "bad" bacteria that can cause problems.
Bacterial vaginosis may cause pain, itching, and a bad-smelling discharge. But
most girls with BV don't notice any symptoms — and that's not necessarily a
good thing. Symptoms alert us to signs of trouble. Girls who don't know they have
BV might not get treated for it. BV may be mild, but if it isn't treated it can lead
to other problems.
BV is the most common vaginal infection affecting young women. Although it's not
considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD), the chances of developing bacterial
vaginosis seem to increase with the number of sexual partners a woman has.
You don't need to be having sex to get BV, though. Girls who've never had sex also
can get it.
What Causes It?
Normally, a lot of good, healthy bacteria live in the vagina along with a small
amount of potentially harmful bacteria. But sometimes this balance can be upset by
things like douching. That can lead a girl to develop bacterial vaginosis.
Although medical experts don't know for sure what causes BV, they do know that
certain things can make the infection more likely, such as:
new sex partners or many different sex partners (male or female)
You can't get BV from things like toilet seats, sheets and towels, or swimming
How Do You Know If You Have It?
Many girls don't see any signs of BV. But those who do might notice:
an abnormal white or gray vaginal discharge that's thin, with a bad, fishy smell
that's more noticeable during a girl's period or after sex
pain while peeing
itching in and around the vagina
It's normal to have vaginal discharge at different points during your menstrual
cycle. But if you notice any discharge or other vaginal symptoms that don't seem normal,
contact your doctor.
What Happens at the Doctor's Office?
You'll start by talking with a doctor or nurse practitioner about your medical
history and symptoms. Then he or she will examine you, and probably use a cotton swab
to collect a sample of vaginal fluid. This sample will then be tested in the office
or in a lab.
It's usually possible to diagnose BV without doing an internal pelvic
The usual treatment for BV is prescription antibiotics (pills, vaginal creams,
or suppositories). Because BV can come back, a girl may need to take more than one
series of antibiotics. Even if you feel better partway through taking the antibiotics,
you'll need to take all the pills (or use all the cream or suppositories).
Your health care provider should let you know about any restrictions needed while
taking the antibiotic. For example, some medications can weaken condoms and diaphragms
(even after the treatment is finished). With other medications, people can't drink
alcohol. Ask if there's anything you should avoid while taking your medication.
If a girl is having sex, her male sex partners probably won't have to get treated,
but female partners will.
Can It Be Prevented?
It's not always possible to prevent BV. But these things can lower a girl's chance
of getting it:
if you decide to have sex, always use a condom and limit the number of sex partners
Most of the time, BV goes away without any complications when properly treated.
But if it's not treated, BV can increase a girl's chances of certain health
Increased chance of getting an STD: Girls with BV are more likely
to get STDs like herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV.
Increased chance of pregnancy complications: When BV isn't treated,
a woman may have more problems when she gets pregnant, such as premature birth, low
birth weight, infection, and possibly miscarriage.
Infections like BV are one reason why girls who are having sex need to get regular
gynecological checkups and STD tests. Even if a girl doesn't know that she has an
infection, doctors and nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat it to help prevent