If Your Vagina Smells Off, You Probably Have This Common Infection — Here's How to Fix It

There can be a lot of confusion about what's "good" and "bad" when it comes to sexual health. If you feel like something is off with your vagina, have Googled whether or not your discharge is normal, and have noticed a "fishy" odor, you may have bacterial vaginosis (BV), a very common vaginal infection.

What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, BV is the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15 to 44. The cause of BV and how those with vaginas get it is unknown, according to the CDC.

"Bacterial vaginosis, or bacterial vaginitis, is a condition where there's an overgrowth of the bacterial components in the vagina," Susan Khalil, MD, ob-gyn, the director of sexual health at Mount Sinai told POPSUGAR. According to the CDC, BV is linked to an imbalance of "good" and "harmful" bacteria that are typically found in a person's vagina. Although BV can affect anyone with a vagina, for the purpose of this article, the experts we spoke to referred to these people as women.

"It is something that is found in women usually after the onset of sexual activity, but it's not something that is in the classic terms of what a sexually transmitted infection is," Dr. Khalil explained. It is possible to get BV if you aren't sexually active, according to Dr. Khalil, because the bacteria and yeast found in the vagina can cause an overgrowth in the vaginal microbiome.

Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis

If you feel like something is off with your vaginal health, there's a chance that you may have an infection, like BV, and it's recommended you speak with a medical provider as soon as possible. Common symptoms of BV are "more discharge than usual and sometimes an abnormal odor with vaginal discharge," Dr. Khalil said. Other symptoms of BV are pain, itching, and burning of the vagina, a fish-like odor after sex, burning when urinating, itching around the outside of the vagina, and a thin white or gray vaginal discharge, the CDC reported.

How to Treat Bacterial Vaginosis

First, your gynecologist or physician will rule out STIs and STDs that could potentially lead to "more serious consequences, like a pelvic infection and things that can impact fertility," Dr. Khalil said. For example, chlamydia or gonorrhea.

If your medical provider recommends treatment, an antibiotic, such as metronidazole, will be prescribed in the form of a vaginal gel or a pill to be taken orally. It is possible for BV to go away without treatment, according to the CDC, but the CDC advises seeking medical care if you are experiencing any symptoms of BV.

According to Dr. Khalil, it takes "about a week" for BV to go away "but it depends on many other medical factors like the patient's health status." If you do have BV and have a partner with a penis, Dr. Khalil said it's "highly unlikely," to transmit BV to them. The CDC confirms, "Male sex partners of women diagnosed with BV generally do not need to be treated." But if you have vagina-to-vagina sex, it's possible to transfer BV to your partner, according to the CDC.

If you've noticed a change in your discharge, a "fishy" odor, and are unsure if it's normal or not, consult a physician. If you do in fact have BV, you shouldn't feel embarrassed or ashamed. Having open communication about your health with your medical provider is both important and empowering, and it will ensure that you receive the best information and care for your lifestyle.