Bacterial Vaginosis

Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include white and watery vaginal discharge that often has a strong fishy smell.

Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated with antibiotics from a GP or sexual health clinic.

You're more likely to get bacterial vaginosis if you're sexually active, have an IUD or use perfumed products around your vagina.

The most common symptom of bacterial vaginosis is unusual vaginal discharge that has a strong fishy smell, particularly after sex.

You may notice a change to the colour and consistency of your discharge, such as becoming greyish-white and thin and watery.

But 50% of women with bacterial vaginosis do not have any symptoms.

Bacterial vaginosis does not usually cause any soreness or itching.

Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated with antibiotic tablets or gels or creams.

These are prescribed by a GP or sexual health clinic.

If you have a same-sex partner, they may also need treatment.

Recurring bacterial vaginosis

It's common for BV to come back, usually within 3 months.

You'll need to take treatment for longer (up to 6 months) if you keep getting BV (you get it more than twice in 6 months).

A GP or sexual health clinic will recommend how long you need to treat it.

They can also help identify if something is triggering your BV, such as sex or your period.

To help relieve symptoms and prevent bacterial vaginosis returning:


  • use water and plain soap to wash your genital area

  • have showers instead of baths


  • do not use perfumed soaps, bubble bath, shampoo or shower gel in the bath

  • do not use vaginal deodorants, washes or douches

  • do not put antiseptic liquids in the bath

  • do not use strong detergents to wash your underwear

  • do not smoke

Bacterial vaginosis is caused by a change in the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina.

What causes this to happen is not fully known, but you're more likely to get it if:

  • you're sexually active (but women who have not had sex can also get BV)
  • you have had a change of partner
  • you have an IUD (contraception device)
  • you use perfumed products in or around your vagina

BV is not an STI, even though it can be triggered by sex.

A woman can pass it to another woman during sex.

You're more likely to get an STI if you have BV. This may be because BV makes your vagina less acidic and reduces your natural defences against infection.

Page last reviewed: 22-11-2018
Next review due:22-11-2021

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