7 Signs You Might Have Bacterial Vaginosis

by Carina Wolff

Whenever women get some itchiness or discharge down there, they usually are quick to assume it's a yeast infection, but that isn't always the case. When there's trouble in your vagina, you might want to look out for some signs you have bacterial vaginosis (BV). Knowing what's really going on below the belt can help you get the proper treatment, and bacterial vaginosis is more common than you realize.

Like a yeast infection, BV is caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. "Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in women, even more common than yeast infections," says Dr. Allison Hill, OB/GYN and Cystex spokesperson over email. "It occurs when there is an overgrowth of bacteria that are normally found in the vaginal canal. Alterations in the vaginal pH allow the normal bacteria to flourish. These changes in the pH occur with sexual activity, especially if you have a new partner, but may also happen if you have changes in your diet or activity levels."

Unlike a yeast infection, however, BV is usually treated with an antibiotic. If you suspect you might have BV, you'll have to go see your gynecologist, who can confirm your diagnosis and give you the proper treatment. Here are seven signs you might have bacterial vaginosis to look out for.


Fishy Odor


A telltale sign of bacterial vaginosis is odor. "Many women describe the smell as being 'fishy' and abnormally strong," says gynecologist John Adams, MD. "This is one of the most common ways to identify BV."


Odor That Worsens After Sex


That fishy odor tends to worsen after you've had sex. "This happens because semen increases the pH further, and this releases amines that contributes to the odor," says gynecologist Barb DePree, MD over email. "Some women might choose to have their partners use a condom if they are having symptoms that suggest BV in an effort not to worsen the situation or if you are prone to BV."




Another major indication of BV is thin, vaginal discharge that is grey or green in color. "Bacteria can alter vaginal mucus, leaving it unusually watery," says Adams. "This discharge would be atypical from normal mucosal secretions, both in consistency and color. Thin vaginal discharge can actually leave women more susceptible to contracting diseases and infections, since the mucus doesn’t provide the typical barrier it otherwise would."


Bleeding After Sex


In addition to odor, BV can also cause bleeding after sex. "If BV travels through the vaginal canal to the cervix, it can cause spotting or light bleeding after intercourse," says Hill.


Vaginal Burning Or Irritation


"While yeast infections are characteristically itchy, BV causes a more subtle irritation or burning sensation," says Hill. If your vaginal irritation isn't cure by over-the-counter yeast treatments, you'll want to get checked out to see if you might have BV instead.


Painful Urination

BV can cause similar symptoms to a UTI. "Both UTIs and BV can cause burning with urination," says Hill. "However, with BV, the burning feeling is present even without urinating."


Vulvar Irritation

In addition to pain on the inside of the vagina, if you have BV, you may some on the outside as well. "Vulvar irritation may be noted," says Depree. "The presence of the discharge and inflammation from the bacteria may irritate the area near the opening of the vagina."