What is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Don’t worry, it’s not an STI (although you can get it from sex).

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You’ve been feeling discomfort recently “down there.” After a trip to the ob/gyn and a few tests, they call back to tell you you have bacterial vaginosis, or BV.

It’s never fun to hear you have an infection below the belt, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. After all, bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal condition in women between their teens and the mid-forties. It mostly affects sexually active women. That said, it’s not technically considered a sexually transmitted infection because you can get BV without having sex—but that’s less common.

What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?

BV occurs when there is an overgrowth of certain types of bacteria in the vagina. You always have bacteria in the vagina, but there are “good” and “bad” types. BV happens when there is an imbalance of those different types, causing inflammation.

What Are BV Symptoms?

BV can sometimes be mistaken for a urinary tract infection, a yeast infection, or other STIs. However, there are a few telltale symptoms of BV to look out for and mention to your doctor, including:

  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Burning in and outside the vagina
  • A burning sensation when you urinate
  • A strong, fishy odor
  • White or gray discharge

How to Lower the Risk of BV

Bacterial vaginosis happens when something upsets the balance of good and bad bacteria in the vagina. A few things that can help lower your risk of BV include:

  • Using condoms (and using them correctly every time)
  • Not douching
  • Limiting the number of people you’re sexually active with
  • Wearing cotton underwear to wick away moisture
  • Wiping front to back to prevent fecal bacteria from entering the vagina

What You Can Do

BV will sometimes go away on its own, but it’s important to seek testing and treatment. That’s because having BV increases your risk of getting STIs, and the symptoms can take a toll on your everyday life. Treatment is simple: Your doctor will prescribe an oral antibiotic, and it should clear up in a few days.

Don’t suffer with BV symptoms in silence: Your ob/gyn has likely helped hundreds of women with BV. (They might have even had it themselves!)