Bacterial Vaginosis Discharge Vs Yeast Infection Discharge

Understanding bacterial vaginosis discharge vs yeast infection discharge

Around 75 per cent of women will get some form of vaginal discharge at some point in their lives. Most women immediately blame a yeast infection, thinking it's not a big deal. However, the problem may be caused by bacterial vaginosis (BV), which can be a more serious condition if left untreated. Understand bacterial vaginosis discharge vs yeast infection discharge.

Bacterial vaginosis discharge vs yeast infection discharge

Yeast infection

Yeast infections (commonly called ‘thrush') are caused by a fungus called ‘Candida albicans'. The fungus lives in the mouth, digestive tract, on the skin and inside the vagina. An overgrowth of the fungus can cause a yeast infection.

There are a number of things that can trigger a yeast infection:

  • antibiotics
  • pregnancy
  • diabetes
  • obesity

Antibiotics decrease the amount of healthy bacteria in the vagina, allowing Candida to multiple uncontrolled. In obese and pregnant women, there is more estrogen for the yeast to feed on, whilst in diabetics high blood sugar levels have the same effect.

Fungus thrives in warm, moist areas and wearing tight pants and synthetic fabric underwear can create the perfect environment.

If you have a yeast infection, you will have vaginal discharge. The discharge is thick, white and curdy or cheesy in texture and is odorless. You may experience discomfort when urinating or during intercourse and your vagina may be itchy and reddened.

Usually, thrush can be cleared up quickly by using an anti-fungal cream or suppositories containing butoconazole, clotrimazole, miconazole or tioconazole. These are available from a pharmacist without a prescription and will usually sort out the problem within a week or so.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

BV is not an infection, but rather a condition that is caused by an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria inside the vagina. Although it sounds very similar to thrush, BV is more common and is potentially more serious.

BV can make you more susceptible to infection following gynaecological surgery and it can also leave you more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, herpes simplex virus, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Furthermore, if you develop BV whilst you're pregnant, you may be at risk of pre-term delivery.

Although BV isn't sexually transmitted, it is thought that having sex with a new partner or having multiple partners can trigger a flare-up.

BV causes a watery, greyish white discharge that has a typical fishy smell, especially following intercourse. You may experience itching and a burning sensation during intercourse or when urinating, just as you would with a yeast infection.

Many women mistake BV for a yeast infection and try to treat it with anti-fungal preparations, which won't work. If the discharge has a fishy smell, it is almost certainly bacterial vaginosis and you should see your doctor immediately to have the diagnosis confirmed.

Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics: clindamycin (a cream) or metronidazole (a gel), which are inserted into the vagina. You can also have the same medications in oral form, although there are more side effects associated with this. Most cases of BV clear up in a week or so.

Preventing bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections

In both cases it's important to refrain from sexual intercourse until you have finished your course of treatment and discharge has cleared up completely.

There are a number of steps that you can take to prevent a recurrence of both conditions.

  1. Avoid using fabric conditioner and scented laundry detergent when washing your underwear. Both these products cling to the fabric and can irritate the sensitive areas around the vagina entrance. It may also be worth giving your undies a second rinse to be sure that they are completely free of irritants.
  2. Douching can change the normal flora of the vagina and that encourages the growth of abnormal organisms. It is therefore best to avoid douching.
  3. If you habitually wear underwear made of synthetic materials like nylon, switch to pure cotton instead. Unnatural fibers can really irritate the skin, making itching worse and creating the moist environment that both yeast and bacteria thrive in.


Although bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections do have many commonalities, the main difference from a diagnostic point of view is that the discharge caused by a yeast infection is odourless and that produced by bacterial vaginosis has a distinctive, characteristic fishy smell.

Last Reviewed:
August 21, 2017
Last Updated:
October 17, 2017
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