Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is not a sexually transmitted infection but can develop after you've had sex.

How do I get it?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common cause of unusual vaginal discharge. One in three people with a vagina get it at some time. People with a penis don’t get bacterial vaginosis.
People who have bacterial vaginosis can have:

  • less normal vaginal bacteria (lactobacilli)
  • an overgrowth of other types of bacteria in the vagina
  • a change in pH (acid/alkaline balance) of the vagina with the vagina becoming more alkaline.

Bacterial vaginosis is more common if you:

  • use medicated or perfumed soaps, bubble bath or shower gel
  • put antiseptic liquids in the bath
  • douche or use vaginal deodorant
  • use strong detergents to wash your underwear
  • smoke.

Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, receiving oral sex, semen in the vagina after sex without a condom, an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) and genetic factors may also play a part.

What might I notice if I have it (Symptoms)?

Around half of people with bacterial vaginosis won’t have any signs and symptoms at all, or may not be aware of them. You might notice a change in your usual vaginal discharge. This may increase, become thin and watery, change to a white/grey colour and develop a strong, unpleasant, fishy smell, especially after sex. Bacterial vaginosis isn’t usually associated with soreness, itching or irritation.

How do I get tested?

A doctor or nurse may examine inside of your vagina to look at any vaginal discharge and to collect a sample from the vaginal walls using a swab. A swab looks like a cotton bud, but is smaller and rounded. It sometimes has a small plastic loop on the end rather than a cotton tip. It only takes a few seconds to wipe over the area and isn’t usually painful, though it may be uncomfortable for a moment. The pH (alkaline/acid balance) of the vagina may be measured by wiping a sample of vaginal discharge over a piece of specially treated paper.

Please book an appointment with your GP or attend your local pharmacy. 

What is the treatment?

  • Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis can settle without treatment especially if you remove the trigger factors.  
  • Bacterial vaginosis can be treated with over the counter remedies. These include gels you put in the vagina that re-balance the vaginal pH.
  • If symptoms persist despite the above, then as well as advising a sexual health screen you could approach your GP for treatment or contact the sexual health clinic if you have reasons to think you have an STI..
  • Doctors and nurses can offer treatment for bacterial vaginosis with antibiotics, which will be a course of tablets for 5 days or you may be given a cream or gel instead: you’ll need to use this in the vagina for 5–7 days.
  • Tell the doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you’re pregnant, think you might be, or you’re breastfeeding. This can affect the type of treatment you’re given.


  • Please book an appointment with your GP or attend your local pharmacy.