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Signs and Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis

written by: AlyssaAst • edited by: BStone • updated: 4/18/2011

Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis often include a foul smelling discharge from the vagina. Pain, itching and burning can occur as well. If the condition is persistent, antibiotic treatment is needed.

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    Women who have an abnormal level of bacteria within the vagina suffer from a condition known as bacterial vaginosis. Some women develop an overgrowth of bacteria within the vagina causing bacterial vaginosis, which often causes odor, pain, discharge, itching and burning. In the United States, bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection found in women of childbearing age, and it’s most common in pregnant women. When the balance of bacteria within the vagina is disrupted, symptoms of bacteria vaginosis can begin to occur. Although the condition usually resolves on its own, some cases may require treatment.

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    Causes of Bacterial Vaginosis

    The exact cause of the bacterial imbalance that results in bacterial vaginosis remains unknown; however, there are certain factors that appear to contribute to the imbalance. Women who are sexually active and have more than one sex partner have an increased risk for developing the condition. Women who smoke and douche appear to be at a greater risk for the imbalance than women who don’t smoke or douche. Bacterial vaginosis doesn’t appear to be contagious.

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    Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis

    Many women who have bacterial vaginosis never notice the symptoms. Common bacterial vaginosis symptoms include a foul or fishy smell, which often worsens after sexual activity. A smelly discharge, which can appear gray, white or yellow in color, is often associated with the condition. Some women report to experience pain, itching or burning in the vaginal area. It’s not uncommon for women with bacterial vaginosis to have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) as well.

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    Complications of Bacterial Vaginosis

    Most cases of bacterial vaginosis resolve without treatment and further health complications are rare; however, some women may experience complications. Pregnant women who have this condition have an increased risk for miscarriage, preterm delivery and uterine infection after delivery. Pelvic infections can occur if the condition is present during pelvic procedures, such as a c-section or hysterectomy. Women who have bacterial vaginosis have an increased risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

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    Treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis

    In order to diagnose bacterial vaginosis, a pelvic exam is conducted and a sample of vaginal discharge is collected for testing. If the condition is present, antibiotics are often prescribed, such as metronidazole and clindamycin. These antibiotics can be prescribed as pills to swallow, creams and ovules, which are inserted into the vagina. If antibiotics are needed, the condition usually resolves after 2 to 3 days, although the antibiotics are used for 7 days. The full course of antibiotics is needed to ensure the condition is effectively treated. While taking antibiotics, it’s recommended alcohol consumption is avoided. Sexual activity should be limited while taking these antibiotics. Side effects of these antibiotics include vaginal yeast infection, which causes redness, itching and a lumpy, white discharge. Vaginal yeast infections require a second form of treatment.