Veera | Health Insights

How Do You Get Bacterial Vaginosis? Everything You Need to Know About the Causes and Symptoms

Does your vagina seem to be smelling bad? If you have noticed a fishy odour coming from your vagina and are wondering whether your discharge is normal, you may have bacterial vaginosis.

Is a vaginal odour and abnormal vaginal discharge driving you crazy? You could be suffering from bacterial vaginosis (BV). Over half (52%) of women don't know what this condition is or whether they are suffering from it, according to a survey conducted by Canesten Intimate Health. Here is an all-you-need-to-know guide about bacterial vaginosis, to help ease your mind about the condition and start getting it treated.

Why do you get bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is extremely common in Indian women. Your vagina has an ecosystem of good bacteria that prevent the growth of bad bacteria. Lactobacillus species are the main type of bacteria that helps in maintaining an acidic pH, thus preventing the overgrowth of bacteria. However, when there is an imbalance in the natural bacterial ecosystem in the vagina, then there can be an overgrowth of a bacteria called Gardnerella vaginalis. This bacteria normally lives in about 30% of women, but when it outnumbers the good bacteria, it makes the vaginal environment more alkaline. This can trigger a bacterial vaginosis infection, reducing the effectiveness of your vagina's naturally protective mucous.

Physiologically, your pH tends to increase during periods and during pregnancy. Other factors like excessive vaginal douching, use of steroids, and use of scented soaps can all affect the normal bacterial flora. Sexual intercourse can also expose the vagina to bacteria that can cause bacterial vaginosis.

How do you know if you have bacterial vaginosis?

Most women are actually asymptomatic, however, the most common symptoms of bacterial vaginosis:

  • A fishy-smelling odor from the vagina, particularly noticeable after intercourse and menses
  • A water-grey discharge or more discharge than usual
  • Sometimes uncomfortable burning sensation in the vagina 

Distinguishing between normal and abnormal discharge during an infection can be hard. If you are unsure whether your symptoms are ticking the box, we recommend seeing a gynaecologist just in case.

What are the consequences of bacterial vaginosis?

BV can be a risk factor for preterm delivery in pregnant women. The infection increases the risk of other infections after delivery or abortions. It may also increase risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomonas.

Can you get BV from sex?

BV is more common in sexually active women. While it is not a sexually transmitted disease, the alkaline semen can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the vagina. That said, your chances of BV increase when you have a new sexual partner or have multiple sexual partners. In addition, having BV can put you at risk of catching other types of infections from sex. So, make sure that you always use a condom during intercourse. Women who have sex with women might pass on bacterial vaginosis to their partners.

If you do have BV, you should not feel embarrassed or ashamed - it’s easily treatable! You can book an appointment with a gynaecologist on our portal to talk about if you think you may have this infection.

Also Reviewed by Dr. Shailly Prasad, MD/MBA, Resident Physician, Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Disclaimer: Content on Veera is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, or as a substitute for medical advice given by a physician

[1] 1: Bagnall P, Rizzolo D. Bacterial vaginosis: A practical review. JAAPA. 2017 Dec;30(12):15-21. doi: 10.1097/01.JAA.0000526770.60197.fa. Review. PubMed PMID: 29135564.
[2] Abdullateef, R. M., Ijaiya, M. A., Abayomi, F., Adeniran, A. S., & Idris, H. (2017). Bacterial vaginosis: Prevalence and associated risk factors among non-pregnant women of reproductive age attending a Nigerian tertiary hospital. Malawi medical journal : the journal of Medical Association of Malawi, 29(4), 290–293.

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