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Bacterial Vaginosis: Causes, Common Symptoms & Testing For BV

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Bacterial Vaginosis is a common infection that affects both sexually active and non-sexually active women. In this article, we discuss the common symptoms you should look out for, and how you can test for the BV-causing bacteria.

What symptoms do you get with BV? Common bacterial vaginosis (also known as BV) symptoms include unusual discharge that may be grey or green in colour, and watery in texture. The discharge is usually accompanied by a foul “fishy” odour, which worsens after sex. However, many women with BV won’t experience symptoms.

Read on to find out more about the common symptoms of BV, and how the infection can be tested for. 

What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?

BV is caused by an imbalance of unhealthy bacteria in the vagina. Gardnerella vaginalis is an anaerobic bacterium (bacteria) that usually exists in your vagina without causing any harm. However, if the balance of Gardnerella is thrown off, you may start experiencing signs of BV. 

Bacterial vaginosis and Gardnerella are not considered to be STDs, but you’re more likely to contract the condition if you’re sexually active and you’ve had a change of partner. Your vagina’s natural bacteria and pH levels, which should be around 3.8-4.5, can be thrown of by a few things:

Scented Products

Using products with harsh fragrances and chemicals can throw the bacterial flora in your vagina out of balance. You may want to stay away from scented sanitary products, harsh laundry detergents, and antibacterial soaps.

Sexual Activities

Semen is alkaline and the vagina is acidic, so your partner’s natural genital chemistry may change the balance of bacteria within your vagina. Of course, the more you have sex with different partners, the more of a risk you face from this happening. Medical experts aren’t sure why, but women who have female partners are most at risk of getting BV


The vagina is self-cleaning, so there isn’t any need to wash inside the vagina. The practice of rinsing inside the vagina with water or soap can very easily throw off the natural balance of your vagina. Douching actually causes the good vagina bacteria to be washed away.

What Are The Symptoms Of BV?

Sometimes, bacterial vaginosis can be asymptomatic, but when bacterial vaginosis does cause symptoms, women often experience:

Unusual Discharge

The most common symptom of BV is a change in vaginal discharge. Discharge may be off-white, green, or dull greyish colour. The texture may be thin or foamier than usual, healthy vaginal discharge. Remember that BV isn’t the only cause of unusual vaginal discharge, this may be caused by sexually transmitted infections or vaginal thrush

Foul-Smelling Odour

The discharge you experience with a BV infection may be accompanied by a foul-smelling odour that can sometimes be described as “fishy”. The odour may worsen during, or after sex. The odour can also become stronger while menstruating. 

Itching & Burning

Although not a common symptom, some women experience some itching around the vagina. Along with itching around your vagina, you may experience burning sensations during urination, or similar types of pain on your urethra. However, many people don’t have any noticeable irritation or discomfort with BV. If you have vaginal itching but no other BV symptoms, it might be something else. To find out more on the causes of vaginal irritation, read our recent blog post.

How Long Do BV Symptoms Take To Show Up?

Bacterial vaginosis can behave in a similar way to STDs and have a similar incubation period of around 4 days. The incubation period usually starts after a trigger that throws off the balance of bacteria in your vagina. 

However, over 50% of women who have BV are asymptomatic. Asymptomatic BV usually doesn’t require treatment. For more information on symptomless infections and STDs, read our recent blog post

How Should You Test For BV? 

For an official diagnosis, your medical provider may look at your discharge under a microscope to review the bacteria found and will look for an overgrowth of Gardnerella vaginalis and other bacteria. Gardnerella vaginallis can be diagnosed by testing for the condition using urine or vaginal swab samples.

Your Sexual Health offers a range of testing options for detecting Gardnerella vaginalis, including tests for those who are trying for a baby or about to start IVF treatment. Find out more about our pre-IVF screening tests here.

Gardnerella Testing With Your Sexual Health

An overproduction of Gardnerella vaginallis can lead to infections such as BV, or even make you susceptible to STDs, like chlamydia. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s important to get tested, so you can get the appropriate treatment. 

At Your Sexual Health, we offer a range of Gardnerella profile tests, which can also test for several other common STDs from the same swab or sample. Get tested in one of our UK clinics, or order a discreet home test kit today. 

If you have any STD concerns or want advice on choosing the right test, contact our friendly sexual health team who will be happy to help.

Related Questions


No, bacterial vaginosis isn’t an STD. However, you may increase your chances of getting the infection if you reguarly change your sexual partners, as that increases the chance of your natural vagina flora being out of balance. Having bacterial vaginosis can also increase your chances of getting an STD, such as chlamydia, herpes, and HIV.

Can Men Get BV?

No, bacterial vaginosis won’t affect men as the penis doesn’t have the same delicate bacteria as a vagina does. Men, however, can come into contact with Gardnerella vaginallis, which usually doesn’t present any symptoms and clears up on its own. If you’d like to find out more about Gardnerella in men, read our recent blog post

How Is Bacterial Vaginosis Treated?

In mild cases, BV can go away on its own. Usually, cases of bacterial vaginosis are treated with antibiotics, in the form of oral pills, gels, and creams. Popular BV medications include metronidazole or clindamycin.