Bacterial Vaginosis Overview
Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal condition that results from an overgrowth of normal bacteria in the vagina. The condition was formerly referred to as Gardnerella vaginitis, after the bacteria that were believed to cause the condition. However, since there are a number of species of bacteria that naturally live in the vagina and can grow to excess to cause the condition, the name bacterial vaginosis is the preferred term. As a result of overgrowth of certain bacteria, a vaginal discharge may result.
Bacterial Vaginosis Causes
The reasons for overgrowth of certain types of bacteria in the vagina or an imbalance in the growth of these bacteria are not fully understood. However, certain factors can increase a woman’s risk of developing bacterial vaginosis, including:
- having multiple sex partners,
- having a female sex partner, and
- tobacco smoking.
Vaginal douching may also increase the risk of developing bacterial vaginosis.
While the condition is more common in women with multiple sex partners, it is not believed to be contagious or entirely related to sexual activity since it is the result of overgrowth or imbalance in the bacteria normally present in the vagina. Moreover, women who have not had sexual activity can develop bacterial vaginosis.
Bacterial Vaginosis Symptoms
Vaginal discharge, often with a foul-smelling odor, is typically the only symptom of bacterial vaginosis. The discharge has been described a thin and gray to white in color. It is difficult to determine how much discharge represents an abnormal amount, since all women can have varying amounts of vaginal discharge. In general, any discharge that is in excess of normal for a particular woman can be regarded as abnormal. Many women with bacterial vaginosis have no symptoms at all.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD