What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?

What is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial Vaginosis, or BV, occurs when there’s a change in the natural pH balance in the vagina. This then causes a change in the bacterial environment.

Healthy vaginas are slightly acidic, thanks to the presence of good bacteria called lactobacilli that produce lactic acid. However, if these are in short supply, harmful bacteria can grow and trigger occurrences of BV.

Although 'Bacterial Vaginosis' sounds scary BV is actually very common, in fact more women in the UK suffer from it than any other vaginal condition. And it’s twice as prevalent as thrush, even though BV is often mistaken for thrush, mainly because thrush is better known and understood. Because very few people have heard of BV they typically treat symptoms as thrush. This can cause recurrences of BV and sometimes lead to thrush!


Help recognising the symptoms of BV

Confused? That's understandable. Luckily there are some distinct differences between the most common intimate health conditions

Symptoms of BV
Symptoms of Thrush
Symptoms of Trich
Is there a smell? Possible fishy smell No smell Unpleasant strong smell
Do you have a discharge? Thin, watery, possibly greyish white disharge or abnormally large amount of discharge Thick, white, curd-like discharge Yellow or green frothy discharge
Do you have itchiness or discomfort Occasional discomfort Intense itching or even a burning sensation Soreness and possible inflammation
Redness and irritation of the skin around the vulva Pain during sex or when passing urine

Not sure if you have BV or thrush?

Our FREE, comprehensive symptom checker can help determine whether you may have BV or thrush and offer treatments.

Try the Symptom Checker

What are the triggers and causes of BV?

All these things can affect your vaginal pH balance and trigger BV

Excessive Washing

Perfumed Soaps



BV is totally normal and natural. It can be caused by lots of things but here is an idea of the most common causes:

  • Internal washing – this can upset your vagina's natural balance
  • Perfumed ‘intimate hygiene’ products
  • Periods - your monthly menstrual cycle can upset the balance  
  • Semen - as the pH of semen is actually higher than the pH of your vagina

Up to 72% of women will get recurrence of BV within 7 months

What treatments are available for BV?

There are a variety of treatments on offer, including gels and pessaries that can be bought over the counter, online or on prescription. Antibiotics are also available on prescription from your doctor or pharmacist (although they can upset the delicate balance of bacteria), while some people even choose home remedies.

You can talk through the treatment options with your doctor or GUM (Genito-Urinary Medicine) clinic.

Balance Activ, has been shown to be as effective as antibiotics in relieving symptoms of BV. It contains lactic acid and glycogen, working with your body to promote the growth of good bacteria and restore the natural vaginal balance. You can buy this in the shops or get it on prescription.

I Would Be Lost Without This

Really helped clear up my BV and keep it from coming back again. I didn't experience any burning or stinging when applying and the symptoms resolved within 24 hours. It's much nicer using these than taking antibiotics and surely healthier. I always take some when I go on holiday just in case!

Pen , October, 2018

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