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BV (bacterial vaginosis) refers to an imbalance of harmful bacterial in the vagina. Douching, not practicing safe sex, or using an intrauterine device can all set the stage for this imbalance. The most common symptom is a gray or white vaginal discharge that is fishy-smelling. However, because not all women experience symptoms, the condition is best diagnosed through a physical examination and lab test and then treated with a course of antibiotics.

What Is BV?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition characterized by an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the vagina. This infection often causes a fishy-smelling vaginal discharge, and sometimes causes other symptoms such as itching and burning. A healthcare provider must examine the vagina for signs of BV. Once the diagnosis is confirmed with lab tests, the condition is usually treated with antibiotics.

What Causes It?

The main cause of this condition is an imbalance in the bacteria that are normally present in the vagina. Factors that can contribute to this condition include:
  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Douching
  • Your partner not using a condom during sex
  • Using an intrauterine device (IUD).
These factors, although not true causes of BV on their own, can make a woman more likely to develop the disease.
(Click Causes of BV for more information.)

Symptoms of BV

Of the different BV symptoms, the symptom women report most commonly is an abnormal, fishy-smelling vaginal discharge. This can be white or gray in color and may be worse after sexual intercourse. Another common symptom is pain during urination or itching around the vagina. Not all women have symptoms of BV, so diagnosing it requires a physical exam and possibly lab tests.
(For a more detailed look at this topic, click BV Symptoms.)
BV presents special risks for women who are pregnant. If you are pregnant, be sure to see a doctor right away if you notice the possible symptoms of bacterial vaginosis (see BV and Pregnancy).
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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