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Bacterial vaginosis symptoms and testing

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What are the symptoms of BV?

The main symptom you will notice if you have bacterial vaginosis (BV) is unusual discharge. Discharge is completely normal and many women and girls experience it. Your vagina self-cleans itself and uses discharge as a way to keep itself clean and free of infection.

During your menstrual cycle the discharge hat is excreted by your vagina will change, this could be because your period is due or you are ovulating. It’s important that you get to know your body and what your discharge looks like, this way you can quickly notice anything usual or different which could be a sign of infection.

If you have bacterial vaginosis your vaginal discharge will be:

  • White or grey in colour
  • Thin or watery
  • Strong smelling – the smell is described as a fishy and might be more present after sex

Every woman is different and so is your body, you might have bacterial vaginosis without noticing any symptoms at all. Also you might think that you have BV but instead the symptoms you are experiencing are that of thrush. These vaginal infections are often mistaken for one another however the symptoms you experience are very different, for example thrush produces thick cottage-cheese like discharge whereas BV creates watery vaginal discharge.

Can BV cause pain?

Unlike other vaginal infections, BV doesn’t normally cause any soreness, pain or itching. The main change you will experience is to your vaginal discharge. If you are experiencing other symptoms that are causing your discomfort talk to your GP, pharmacist or a nurse at your local sexual health clinic. They will be able to diagnose your symptoms and talk you through any testing or treatments that you might need.

How do doctors check for BV?

Whether you speak to your pharmacist, GP or a nurse at a sexual health clinic you’ll be asked to talk about the symptoms you are experiencing in total confidence. Your healthcare practitioner will want to know exactly what signs you have noticed so that they can diagnose you correctly.

If they're unsure what infection you have a doctor or nurse may want to complete a test or examination of your vagina. There is no need to feel embarrassed, the test won’t hurt and the doctor will make sure you are as comfortable as possible. They may also want to take a swab of the inside or your vagina or of any discharge. This will then be tested to find out what infections you have.

How do you check to see if you have BV?

If you would prefer to test for bacterial vaginosis at home, or you have had the infection before and want to be certain that you have it again, there are over the counter BV tests that you can use.

From canesten, the canetest allows you to test yourself for common vaginal infections, including thrush and BV. The test includes a small swab which you will need to insert into your vagina (carefully following the instructions), the swab will then change colour and this will alongside your symptoms which indicate which infection you have.

Once you know that you have BV, you’ll be able to explore treatment options, including antibiotics or creams that you can purchase at your local pharmacy or online.

What are the symptoms of BV in males?

Men do not get bacterial vaginosis, as it is an infection that only affects women. If you are experiencing any discharge from the tip of your penis or a burning sensation when you urinate you may have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). If you believe that you have an STI you can get tested by GP, visit your local sexual health clinic, consult with one of our Online Doctors or buy a testing kit to complete at home.

Can BV go away on its own?

If you have mild symptoms then BV can sometimes clear up on its own, however your doctor or pharmacist will be able to diagnose your symptoms and offer advice about suitable treatments.

Can you give BV to your partner?

If your sexual partner is male then you cannot give bacterial vaginosis to them, as it is an infection that only affects women. If your partner is a woman then you can give the infection to them and vice versa.