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Home / STIs / Bacterial Vaginosis / What are the symptoms of BV?

What are the symptoms of BV?

Find out how to recognise bacterial vaginosis symptoms

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common infection that is a result of a bacterial imbalance in the vagina. Roughly 30% of women will experience BV at some point in their lives.

Although it can be triggered by sex and is more common in women who are sexually active, it is not considered a sexually transmitted disease. You can get BV without having sex at all.

A woman clutching at her crotch due to discomfort

Keep reading to find out the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis so you can recognise if you may require treatment for it.

Is discharge a symptom of BV?

Bacterial vaginosis is often the cause of abnormal vaginal discharge.

It is normal to have vaginal discharge, even daily. It's one way your body helps to keep your vagina clean and healthy.

However, sometimes your discharge can indicate that something is off. The following table shows some differences between normal, healthy discharge and abnormal discharge:

Normal discharge Abnormal discharge
  • Clear
  • Off-white
  • Thin
  • Doesn’t smell unpleasant
  • Grey, yellow, or greenish
  • Thick, or chunky
  • Extra watery
  • Has an unpleasant odour

If you are concerned about your vaginal discharge, you may have a mild fungal or bacterial infection.

Bacterial vaginosis discharge:

  • has an unusual colour, often grey but sometimes yellow or slightly green
  • is watery, or very thin
  • has an unpleasant (fishy) odour that worsens after sex or during your period

You might also experience vaginal itching, or burning during urination - however, these symptoms are less common.

Can BV cause cramps?

Abdominal cramping is another potential symptom of bacterial vaginosis, but it is not common.

If you are experiencing cramps it could just be due to your menstrual cycle or gastrointestinal issues like constipation or a stomach virus.

Can BV be symptomless?

More than half of bacterial vaginosis cases do not present with any symptoms. In one study Trusted source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Government Source Go to source , this figure was as high as 84%.

Because BV is easily spread during sexual contact, it is always best to get screened at a sexual health clinic after having unprotected sex with a new partner.

Having BV unknowingly increases your risk of developing STIs such as chlamydia and herpes, or other health conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Can men get BV?

Men cannot get BV, although they can develop similar conditions such as male thrush.

However, unpleasant penis smells (especially fishy odours) are normally an indication of another type of infection.

Consult a healthcare professional if you are experiencing symptoms similar to BV such as unusual discharge or odour.

Will my symptoms go away on their own?

In some cases, mild bacterial vaginosis infections go away by themselves.

Although you could choose to wait and see if your body fights off the infection, leaving it untreated may allow the infection to worsen.

Alternatively, your body might seemingly clear the infection only for your BV to return again shortly.

If you notice symptoms of BV, getting treatment is the most effective and quickest way of clearing it for certain.

Am I mistaking BV symptoms for thrush?

Another common condition caused by an imbalance in the vagina is thrush, also known as a yeast infection.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if your symptoms point towards BV or thrush.

 A graphic showing a woman debating thrush and BV

Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of a fungus called candida and is sometimes confused with BV. The main symptoms of thrush include:

  • thick, white vaginal discharge (chunky, or resembling cottage cheese)
  • an itchy vulva
  • pain and soreness of the vulva
  • burning during urination
  • burning during or after sex

It is important to tell the difference between thrush and BV symptoms to prevent taking the wrong treatment. Because one condition is fungal and one is bacterial, they require different types of medication.

BV and thrush comparison

The following table compares BV with thrush to inform you of their differences and guide you towards a diagnosis.

Bacterial vaginosis Thrush
Type of infection: Bacterial Fungal
Can it be triggered by sex?
Is it a sexually transmitted infection?
Does it cause thin discharge?
Does it cause thick discharge?
Can it cause burning when urinating?
Can it cause burning during or after sex?
Can it be symptomless?
Does it cause a ‘fishy’ odour?
Can it cause redness and swelling on the vulva?

Want more information on thrush?

Click here

What are the symptoms of BV in pregnancy?

Pregnant women are more prone to BV due to hormone changes that take place during pregnancy.

The symptoms are the same for pregnant women as for those who are not pregnant.

If you suspect bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy, it is important to treat it as soon as possible. This is because BV can increase the risk of a premature birth, or a low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds).

Antibiotic treatment for BV should be safe to take during your pregnancy, however, always check with your doctor before taking anything.

How do you get rid of BV symptoms?

You can treat BV effectively by taking antibiotics like Metronidazole or Tinidazole, or topical treatments such as Dalacin and Fluomizin.

With treatment, your infection should clear in 5-7 days. It is likely that your symptoms will clear even sooner than this - however, always finish the full course of antibiotics to ensure your BV doesn’t return.

You can purchase treatment for BV here at euroClinix. Go to our bacterial vaginosis page to begin your online consultation and place your order.

Looking for BV treatment?

Click here
Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 11-03-2024
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

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Further reading

Metronidazole side effects & how to manage them

Metronidazole side effects & how to manage them

Reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana
When should you be concerned about vaginal discharge?

When should you be concerned about vaginal discharge?

Reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana
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