Bacterial Vaginosis Signs and Symptoms

Doctor with Pregnant Woman Details Credit: Jim Craigmyle
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Research shows that having bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy can increase the risk of preterm delivery, and bacterial vaginosis may even mean a higher risk of second-trimester miscarriage. Given that this imbalance of the normal vaginal bacteria is not hard to treat, it makes sense to see a doctor if you think you might have bacterial vaginosis — especially if you are pregnant or hope to become pregnant in the near future.

But how do you know if you have bacterial vaginosis? According to UpToDate, an electronic reference for doctors and patients, telltale signs can exist but detecting it can be harder than you might think:

"Approximately 50 to 75 percent of women with BV have no symptoms. Those with symptoms often note an unpleasant, "fishy smelling" vaginal discharge that is more noticeable after sexual intercourse. Vaginal discharge that is off-white and thin may also be present.
Pain during urination or sex, vulvar itching, redness, and swelling are not typical. Occasionally, BV causes an abnormal cervical discharge and easy bleeding (such as after sexual intercourse)."

Obviously, if any of this sounds familiar, it makes sense to see your family practitioner or OB/GYN to find out if you might need treatment, which usually consists of antibiotics (which are believed to be safe during pregnancy).

Questions About Symptoms

Here are some questions you might have about bacterial vaginosis symptoms:

  • Should I be tested if I don't have any signs?
    There's no evidence that routine testing for bacterial vaginosis is beneficial in women without symptoms, although some doctors believe that all women with a history of preterm delivery should be screened for bacterial vaginosis.

  • Could undetected bacterial vaginosis have caused my miscarriage?
    If you miscarried in the first trimester, it's not likely that bacterial vaginosis was the reason. Most first trimester miscarriages are related to chromosomal abnormalities in the baby, which would have been present already at the time of conception. If your miscarriage happened in the second trimester, it's possible that bacterial vaginosis could have played a role but no one can say for sure (and it's equally possible that the miscarriage had nothing to do with bacterial vaginosis). In any case, talk to your doctor about testing if you believe there is a chance you have bacterial vaginosis.

  • Do I really have to see a doctor, or can I just treat my symptoms myself?
    Yes, you should see a doctor, because it's best to confirm that what you have really is bacterial vaginosis and not something else. If your symptoms were caused by a yeast infection, for example, the treatment would be completely different.

  • Is it possible for bacterial vaginosis to recur after treatment?
    Yes, it is possible. Let your doctor know if your symptoms seem to be coming back after treatment.


Sobel, Jack D. "Patient information: Bacterial Vaginosis." UpToDate.