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Bacterial vaginosis 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 this condition. Once the diagnosis is confirmed with lab tests, the condition is usually treated with antibiotics.

What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition in women that occurs when the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted and replaced by an overgrowth of certain bacteria. It is sometimes accompanied by:
  • Discharge
  • Odor
  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Burning.

What Causes It?

The main cause of BV is an imbalance in the bacteria that are normally present in the vagina. Other factors, though not true causes on their own, can make a woman more likely to develop this condition. Some of these factors include:
  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Douching
  • Not using a condom
  • Using an intrauterine device (IUD).


(Click Causes of Bacterial Vaginosis for more information.) 


Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis will often cause a vaginal discharge. The discharge is usually thin and milky and is described as having a "fishy" odor. This odor may become more noticeable after intercourse. Redness or itching of the vagina are not common symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, but they can occur. It is important to note that many women with this condition have no symptoms at all, and the condition is only discovered during a routine gynecologic exam.
(Click Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms for more information.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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