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Bacterial Vaginosis Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Philippe H Girerd, MD; Chief Editor: Michel E Rivlin, MD  more...
Updated: Nov 14, 2015


Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include the following:

  • Vaginal odor is the most common, and often initial, symptom of bacterial vaginosis (BV). Odor may be recognized only after sexual intercourse. The alkalinity of semen may cause a release of volatile amines from the vaginal discharge and cause a fishy odor.
  • Increased vaginal discharge is typically mild to moderate.
  • Vulvar irritation is less common.
  • Dysuria or dyspareunia occur rarely.

Inquire about risk factors that may predispose patients to developing BV. Predisposing factors can include the following:

  • Recent antibiotic use
  • Decreased estrogen production of the host
  • Wearing an intrauterine device (IUD)
  • Douching
  • Sexual activity that could lead to transmission, as evidenced by the patient having a new sexual partner, an increased number of sexual partners in the month preceding the onset of BV symptoms, or having an increased number of lifetime sexual partners


Vaginal discharge features include the following:

  • Most often gray, thin, and homogeneous
  • Adherent to the vaginal mucosa
  • May not visualize pooling of discharge in the posterior fornix because of adherence to the vaginal mucosa
  • May observe small bubbles in the discharge fluid

An increased light reflex of the vaginal walls may be observed, indicating a very wet appearance; however, typically, no or little evidence of inflammation is apparent.

The labia, introitus, cervix, and cervical discharge appear normal.

Evidence of cervicitis should prompt a workup for concomitant infection with Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Chlamydia trachomatis, or herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Philippe H Girerd, MD Associate Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Medical College of Virginia

Philippe H Girerd, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Medical Society of Virginia, AAGL

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

A David Barnes, MD, MPH, PhD, FACOG Consulting Staff, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Mammoth Hospital (Mammoth Lakes, CA), Pioneer Valley Hospital (Salt Lake City, UT), Warren General Hospital (Warren, PA), and Mountain West Hospital (Tooele, UT)

A David Barnes, MD, MPH, PhD, FACOG is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Forensic Examiners Institute, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Association of Military Surgeons of the US, American Medical Association, Utah Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Michel E Rivlin, MD Former Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Mississippi School of Medicine

Michel E Rivlin, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Medical Association, Mississippi State Medical Association, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Thomas Michael Price, MD Associate Professor, Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Director of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Fellowship Program, Duke University Medical Center

Thomas Michael Price, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Phi Beta Kappa, Society for Reproductive Investigation, Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Disclosure: Received research grant from: Insigtec Inc<br/>Received consulting fee from Clinical Advisors Group for consulting; Received consulting fee from MEDA Corp Consulting for consulting; Received consulting fee from Gerson Lehrman Group Advisor for consulting; Received honoraria from ABOG for board membership.


Burke A Cunha, MD Professor of Medicine, State University of New York School of Medicine at Stony Brook; Chief, Infectious Disease Division, Winthrop-University Hospital

Burke A Cunha, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Physicians, and Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Diana Curran, MD, FACOG Assistant Professor, Residency Program Director, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan Health Systems

Diana Curran, MD, FACOG is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Medical Association, and Central Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Eric A Hansen, DO, Fellow, Clinical Instructor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Winthrop-University Hospital, State University of New York at Stony Brook

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Table. Differential Diagnosis of the Vaginitides
Clinical ElementsBacterial VaginosisTrichomoniasisVaginal Candidiasis
SymptomsVaginal odor++/--
Vaginal dischargeThin, gray, homogenousGreen-yellowWhite, curdlike
Vulvar irritation+/-++
SignsVulvar erythema-+/-+/-
Bubbles in vaginal fluid++/--
Strawberry cervix-+/--
MicroscopySaline wet mount
Clue cells+--
Motile protozoa-+-
KOH test
Whiff test++/--
pH>4.5>4.5< 4.5
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