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What Is Bacterial Vaginal Infection (Bacterial Vaginosis)?

Overgrowth of normal or abnormal bacteria in the vagina can result in irritation, inflammation (swelling), odor (especially after sex), and other symptoms. The balance of bacteria normally found in the vagina is upset and there is overgrowth of other types of bacteria. This common disorder accounts for about half of all vaginal infections. The urethra (opening of the bladder), the bladder, and skin in the genital area may also be affected.

Bacterial vaginal infection occurs most during years when women can have children. However, women of all ages can get it.

What Causes Bacterial Vaginal Infection?

The cause of the upset in the balance of bacteria isn’t clear. Factors that may be related to bacterial vaginal infection include a new or many sex partners, douching, hot weather, poor health, and poor hygiene. However, women who never had sex can get it too. The risk of getting it can increase if you have diabetes or a weakened immune (infection-fighting) system.

It can’t be caught from toilet seats, linens, or swimming pools.

What Are the Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginal Infection?

A strong fishy odor (often worse after sex) or increased vaginal secretions may be the first or only symptoms. The secretions may be clear, white, or gray and may be thin or heavy. Burning during urination and itching around the vagina may occur. Irritation, swelling, redness, and pain with sex are all common. Many women have no symptoms.

How Is Bacterial Vaginal Infection Diagnosed?

The health care provider will examine the pelvic area, especially the vagina. The health care provider will also take samples of the secretions with a swab to study with a microscope and perform additional tests.

How Is Bacterial Vaginal Infection Treated?

Antibiotics (metronidazole, clindamycin) are given either by mouth or as a vaginal cream or suppository.

Untreated bacterial vaginal infection may lead to complications, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), endometritis, cervicitis, pregnancy problems, and postoperative infections.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Bacterial Vaginal Infection:

  • DO see a health care provider if you think that you have an infection.
  • DO follow your doctor’s instructions.
  • DO finish all your antibiotic medicine even though you may feel better.
  • DO limit your number of sexual partners, to prevent future infections.
  • DON’T use over-the-counter medicines, leftover drugs, or medicines that you get from friends to treat your infection.
  • DON’T douche or rinse away your vaginal secretions before your doctor’s appointment. Your health care provider will want to see the secretions to make a correct diagnosis. For that matter, don’t douche at all.

Contact the following sources:

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
    Tel: (202) 638-5577
  • WebMD
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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