Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a pretty common reason many women get vocal about their vaginal discharge.
A pretty impressive feat when you consider how hush-hush the topic of discharge can be.
Trust a pungent fishy smell to push someone out of their comfort zone and get the conversation going.
And look, while BV might sound intimidating (and serious), understanding the basics most definitely provides clarity on treatment.
We’re breaking down your most pressing BV questions, from the random to the impressively specific, without shying away from the important bits.
In this article: 📝
- What does BV discharge look like?
- Is BV a form of STD?
- How do you know if you have BV discharge?
- Does bacterial vaginosis go away on its own?
- How to get rid of bacterial vaginosis?
What does BV discharge look like?
But its most distinct characteristic is definitely its strong fishy odor, which becomes particularly pronounced straight after sex.
Way to kill the mood, Gardnerella vaginalis.
What is Gardnerella vaginalis
Let’s rewind for a hot second and talk vaginal flora.
Your vagina is home to a diverse community of microorganisms made up of bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
And much like the gut’s microbiome, this natural community plays a vital role in your health—specifically your vaginal and reproductive health—and balance is crucial.
On an average, harmonious day in this intimate environment, the “good” bacteria Lactobacilli helps keep your vaginal pH levels moderately acidic.
They also produce substances that prevent other potentially harmful bacteria from attaching to vaginal cells and growing there.
And all of this works beautifully to fend off “bad” bacteria and infections, keep yeast in check, and your reproductive system clean and healthy.
But people with BV tend to have too little of the good bacteria lactobacilli, and this causes your vaginal pH to increase.
Enter Gardnerella vaginalis.
This anaerobic bacterium is actually a natural member of the vaginal flora club and a welcome one, too, until it overgrows.
In an environment in which the pH is 4.6 or above, Gardnerella starts to multiply, and other bacteria can cling to it and grow too.
This paves the way for symptoms like the fishy odor and the thin, gray discharge that we associate with BV.
Still, it’s essential to understand that the presence of Gardnerella vaginalis doesn’t necessarily mean you have BV.
It’s the imbalance—the overthrow of the good guys leading to the invasion of the bad—that causes the condition.
What color is BV discharge?
The color, consistency, and smell of BV vaginal discharge can vary depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle:
BV after period
This could result in one of the few times you may witness BV and brown discharge forming an alliance.
Some women find they experience chronic BV each month around their period, which is possibly down to instability in the vaginal flora around that time.
And experiencing brown discharge after a period is actually a standard affair for many as the body cleans out any remaining blood or tissue from the reproductive system.
Instead of smelly like metal, however, this type of post-period discharge would more likely have that signature fishy scent.
If you experience this regularly, it might be worth mentioning it to your doctor, who might suggest lifestyle changes such as taking a probiotic.
Can BV cause pink discharge?
It’s basically what happens when a small amount of blood mixes with your vaginal discharge.
So that means factors like irritation, inflammation, or even minor bleeding from the cervix or vaginal walls (from bacterial infections like BV) can cause it too.
If you experience persistent pink discharge along with other BV symptoms like itching or a fishy odor, it might be time to consult a healthcare professional.
Can BV cause green discharge?
It often points to the common sexually transmitted disease trichomoniasis, which also comes with vaginal irritation and that strong fishy smell.
The difference lies in the cause, with the protozoan parasite Trichomonas vaginalis being the culprit behind ‘trich.’
Trichomoniasis and BV can sometimes co-exist, and their symptoms might overlap, but it’s essential to get a proper diagnosis.
One major tip-off that bacteria alone is to blame is if the smell of your vaginal discharge is stronger after sex.
Still, the presence of green discharge is a clear sign that something is off balance and deserves attention.
Is BV a form of STD?
It’s a common misconception due to some compelling overlapping symptoms, but we can confirm bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
But the intensity of BV after sex does little to help this narrative.
Sure, unprotected sexual activity can definitely increase the risk of BV, women who aren’t sexually active can also develop it.
On the other hand, STDs are infections that are transmitted through predominantly sexual contact.
They’re caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites, not by an imbalance of the body’s natural bacteria.
Can semen cause BV?
Certain studies have revealed a link between exposure to sperm and incident bacterial vaginosis.
Mainly because seminal fluid contains alkaline pH, which can impact vaginal pH levels.
Not to mention, sperm also has its own microbial communities (the penis, too), which can cause a shift in the vaginal microbiota.
But it happens in same-sex sexual relations, too.
A 2017 study found that it’s possible for women to exchange vaginal bacterial species during physical intimacy—especially if engaged with a new sexual partner.
When with the same BV-negative partner, the risk of incident bacterial vaginosis was greatly reduced.
BV vs. yeast infection discharge
Adding to the mix of bacterial imbalances, there’s the yeast infection (candidiasis).
Vaginal candidiasis is caused by an overgrowth of the Candida fungus, which causes symptoms, such as itching, irritation, and discomfort when you pee.
It’s easy to see the overlap, but the difference between BV and yeast infection comes down to discharge.
A yeast infection is known for its distinctive cottage cheese appearance, which tends to be white in color and odor-free.
BV discharge is rarely clumpy and typically stands out for its gray color and pungent fishy smell.
How do you know if you have BV discharge?
No doubt, recognizing BV vaginal discharge and distinguishing it from other vaginal infections can be a bit tricky.
But there are some telltale BV symptoms and signs that can act as indicators:
- Strong, fishy smell: One of the most distinguishing features of BV.
- Color and consistency: BV discharge is usually thin, watery, and tends towards a grayish hue. Quite different from the yellowish-greens, cloudy hues, and thick, frothy appearances of STIs or the clumpy discharge caused by candidiasis.
- Volume: Some women with BV may notice an increase in the amount of abnormal discharge.
- General vaginal discomfort. Itching around the vagina, burning during urination, or even a burning sensation in the vaginal area all form part of the BV experience.
- Vaginal pH levels: OK, it’s not something you’d typically check at home, but a shift in the vaginal environment’s pH towards alkalinity often points to BV.
Most importantly, being aware of what’s “normal” for you and noting any changes can be crucial in identifying possible BV.
Causes of BV
Bacterial vaginosis isn’t caused by a single bacteria or virus, so the exact causes of the imbalance aren’t always clear.
But some factors have been linked to a higher risk of developing BV:
- Douching: Studies show using vaginal douches can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina, leading to BV.
- Multiple sexual partners: Regardless of sexual orientation, having multiple or new sexual partners can increase the risk.
- Have unprotected sex: Let’s be clear, BV is not an STI, but unprotected sex can leave your vaginal flora exposed to other bacteria (tipping the balance).
- Natural lack of lactobacilli: Some women naturally have fewer beneficial lactobacilli bacteria in their vaginas, which can make them more susceptible to BV.
- Use of IUDs: Some research suggests that women who have intrauterine devices (IUDs) for birth control might be at higher risk. The same goes for copper IUDs.
- Pregnancy: Up to 30% of pregnant women will experience BV during pregnancy due to the changes in hormones.
- Vaginal products: Your vagina does not appreciate intense cleaning or strong products (it’s got cleaning measures of its own, thank you). The use of deodorants or scented soaps can disrupt the vaginal environment.
How to test for bacterial vaginosis?
If you’ve got your suspicions, it’s essential to see a healthcare professional.
Most likely, they’ll take a sample of your vaginal fluid, which will be examined under a microscope to look for the presence of clue cells (vaginal cells covered with bacteria), which might indicate BV.
A whiff test is another common approach which involves adding a chemical to a sample of the discharge to check for a fishy smell (judgment-free).
Your doctor might also check the pH level of your vagina.
As we mentioned above, normal vaginal pH is acidic, generally between 3.8 and 4.5.
BV tends to raise this pH level.
Some over-the-counter vaginal pH tests can give you an indication, but they aren’t definitive tests for BV.
Only your doctor can give you that, followed by a BV treatment plan.
Does bacterial vaginosis go away on its own?
BV is what’s known as a ‘self-limiting condition’ and not because it puts your sex life on hold.
Simply put, bacterial vaginosis often packs its bags and leaves without any intervention.
But other times, BV tends to linger.
And without proper treatment, it can stick around and potentially lead to other infections and complications.
So, while it’s tempting to adopt a wait-and-see approach, it’s smart to be proactive.
If you suspect you have BV or if the symptoms persist, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
It’s always better to be safe and informed.
What happens if bacterial vaginosis goes untreated?
While BV can sometimes clear up on its own, leaving it untreated can lead to:
- Increased risk of STDs: BV can make the vagina more susceptible to STDs like chlamydia, herpes, and gonorrhea. It can also increase the risk of infections by HIV.
- Complications in pregnancy: BV has been linked to pregnancy complications like a two-fold risk. of preterm birth or having a low-birth-weight baby.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): Because of the alterations to the vaginal flora, untreated BV can increase the risk of developing PID. This infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes can also lead to struggles with trying to conceive (TTC).
It all sounds heavy and, let’s face it, a tad terrifying.
But BV is one of the most—if not the most—common vaginal conditions.
Risk will be there, but so are treatment options.
How to get rid of bacterial vaginosis?
BV is a bummer, but it’s also highly treatable.
Sure, in many cases, BV will go away on its own, but if you’re pregnant or facing a medical procedure that may leave your uterus exposed to bacteria (such as a hysterectomy), your doctor can help.
The same goes if you’re presenting with symptoms full stop.
So, what is used to treat BV?
Usually, your doctor will prescribe you specific antibiotics for bacterial vaginosis, like metronidazole (Flagyl) or clindamycin.
Sometimes, they might opt for a gel version.
How long does it take for BV to go away after metronidazole?
Oral metronidazole is typically taken over seven days (twice a day) while the gel is inserted into the vagina over five days.
Your BV should resolve within this time frame, but it’s still advised to finish the full course, even if you’re feeling better halfway through.
Trust us; your vagina will thank you.
How to cure BV in one day?
Bacterial vaginosis medication works incredibly well, but the minimum recovery time is about two to three days.
There is a single-dose gel available now, but it’s not yet known if the one-day treatment works as well as the multiple-day treatments.
How can I clear my BV on my own?
Unfortunately, there’s no home remedies for BV per se in the same way you won’t find an over-the-counter BV treatment.
While not a direct treatment for BV, some studies suggest taking oral probiotics containing Lactobacillus strains to help reestablish a healthy bacterial balance in the vagina.
Outside of this, it comes down to preventative measures:
- Avoid douching and switch to gentle vaginal cleaning practices. Honestly, your vagina is like a self-cleaning oven—it’s got it covered
- Use condoms to help reduce the risk of BV and avoid sex if symptoms flare
- Switch to breathable fabrics and cotton underwear if you notice BV discharge when wearing tight clothing
- Have regular check-ins if BV is a recurring guest in your life. Your doctor might suggest a more extended treatment or test for other potential causes.
By understanding our bodies and the signals they send us, we can better address and manage potential health issues like BV.
Never be embarrassed or shy away from seeking help or more information.
Your body is a marvel, and knowing how it functions is an empowering tool for maintaining optimal health.