Pinky Ronen, M.D.
Bacterial vaginosis is an infection in the vagina that can cause bad-smelling vaginal discharge. “Vaginal discharge” is the term doctors and nurses use to describe any fluid that comes out of the vagina (figure 1). Normally, women have a small amount of vaginal discharge each day. But women with bacterial vaginosis can have a lot of vaginal discharge, or vaginal discharge that smells bad.
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by certain bacteria (germs). The vagina normally has different types of bacteria in it. When the amounts or the types of bacteria change, an infection can happen.
Women do not catch bacterial vaginosis from having sex. But women who have bacterial vaginosis have a higher chance of catching other infections from their partner during sex.
Most women with bacterial vaginosis have no symptoms. When women have symptoms, they often have a “fishy-smelling” vaginal discharge that they might notice more after sex. The discharge is watery and off-white or gray.
Some women can also have other symptoms that are not as common, but can include:
All of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions. But if you have these symptoms, let your doctor or nurse know.
Yes. Your doctor or nurse will do an exam. He or she will also take a sample of your vaginal discharge, and do lab tests on the sample to look for an infection.
Bacterial vaginosis is treated with medicine. Medicines come in different forms. They can come as a pill or as a gel or cream that a woman puts inside her vagina. Most women have fewer side effects when they use the gel or cream treatment. But you and your doctor or nurse will decide which medicine and which form is right for you. It is important that you take all of the medicine your doctor or nurse prescribes, even if your symptoms go away after a few doses. Taking all of your medicine can help prevent the symptoms from coming back.
No. Your sex partner does not need to be treated if you have bacterial vaginosis.
If your symptoms come back, let your doctor or nurse know. You might need treatment with more medicine. Some women get bacterial vaginosis over and over again. These women might take medicine for 3 to 6 months to try to prevent future infections.
If you are pregnant and have symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, tell your doctor or nurse. You might need treatment with medicine.
Sometimes. You can help prevent bacterial vaginosis by:
A vaginal yeast infection is an infection that causes itching and irritation of the vulva, the outer lips of the vagina. This type of infection is caused by a fungus called “candida.” (Yeast are a type of fungus.)
Some women with a yeast infection also leak a small amount of fluid from the vagina. This fluid is usually white and clumpy (like cottage cheese). But it can also be thin and watery.
Most women cannot tell whether they have a yeast infection or something else. The symptoms of a yeast infection are a lot like the symptoms of many other conditions, so it is hard to tell. The best way find out if you have a yeast infection is to see your doctor or nurse. He or she can run a swab (Q-tip) inside your vagina. Then, he or she can look at the cells from the swab under a microscope and look for the fungus that causes yeast infections. Depending on your situation, your doctor or nurse might do other tests, too. For example, he or she might do a “culture.” This is a test to find out if yeast is present and if so, which type of yeast you have.
The fungus that causes yeast infections normally lives in the vagina and the gut. Even though the yeast are there in small numbers, they do not usually cause symptoms. Certain medicines (especially antibiotics), stress, and other factors can cause the fungus to grow more than it should. When that happens, a yeast infection can start.
Yeast infections can be treated with a pill that you swallow or with medicines that you put in the vagina and on the vulva. The medicines that you put in the vagina come in creams and tablets. All medicines for yeast infections work by killing the fungus that causes the infections.
You will probably feel better within a few days of starting treatment. If you do not get better after you finish treatment, you should see your doctor or nurse again. You may need to take more medicine or a different medicine.
Be sure to see or doctor or nurse about it. That way you can find out for sure whether your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection and, if so, which type of yeast. There are a few different types of yeast, and they respond to different treatments. Plus, the same symptoms that you get with a yeast infection can sometimes be caused by other types of infections, an allergy, or other problems. If you get frequent infections, you might need a different treatment than you have tried in the past