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For many women, the main bacterial vaginosis symptom is an abnormal, fishy-smelling vaginal discharge. Another common symptom is pain during urination. Not all women have signs or symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, however, so a diagnosis may be dependent on a physical exam and lab tests.

What Is the Most Common Sign or Symptom of Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) occurs when the normal balance of bacteria in a woman's vagina is disrupted and replaced by an overgrowth of certain bacteria. The main bacterial vaginosis symptom is an abnormal, foul-smelling vaginal discharge. Some women describe it as a fish-like odor that is most noticeable after having sex. Nearly half of the women with bacterial vaginosis, however, have no symptoms.
A healthcare provider may see the signs of bacterial vaginosis while giving a physical examination. A diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis is confirmed by having lab tests performed on samples of vaginal fluid.

What Are Some Other Symptoms?

Other symptoms of the condition may include:
  • Thin vaginal discharge, usually white or gray in color
  • Pain during urination
  • Itching around the vagina.

Complications Associated With Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms

In most cases, bacterial vaginosis causes no complications. There have been documented risks of bacterial vaginosis, however, such as a link between bacterial vaginosis and pregnancy causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is a serious disease in women that can cause infertility and tubal (ectopic) pregnancies.
Bacterial vaginosis can also cause other problems, such as premature delivery and low birth-weight babies. Therefore, some health experts recommend that all pregnant women (whether or not they have symptoms) who previously have delivered a premature baby be checked for bacterial vaginosis. A pregnant woman who has not delivered a premature baby should be treated if she has symptoms and laboratory evidence of bacterial vaginosis.
Bacterial vaginosis is also associated with increased chances of getting gonorrhea or HIV infection. (HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, causes AIDS.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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