What is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Bacterial vaginosis is a mild infection of the vagina. This condition is caused by an imbalance in the growth of the bacteria that are normally populate the vagina. It is not known exactly why this imbalance in bacterial growth occurs.

This condition used to be called Gardnerella vaginitis, because Gardnerella is a type of bacteria that sometimes causes the infection. We now know that overgrowth of other types of bacteria can also cause bacterial vaginosis.

Unlike sexually transmitted infections, this infection results from bacteria that are normally found in the vagina. A woman does not get the infection from a sex partner. It is most common in sexually active women, but women who are not sexually active also can develop the condition.

About half of women with bacterial vaginosis have no symptoms. Others have variable amounts of vaginal discharge that usually has an unpleasant odor. The discharge is generally grayish-white but can be of any color or consistency.

Because vaginal discharge is also a symptom of other more dangerous infections such as gonorrhea and Chlamydia, you should see your doctor if you experience any abnormal vaginal discharge. A culture of the discharge can rule out other infections and establish the diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis.