Bacterial Vaginosis vs. Yeast Infection: How They Differ

Medically Reviewed By Tahirah Redhead MPAS, PA-C, MPH

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and yeast infections, or candidiasis, are common conditions that affect the vaginal area. They share some similar symptoms and can be confused with each other. However, some differences can help tell them apart. If you experience itchiness, discharge, or discomfort in the vaginal area, you may believe you have a yeast infection. However, these symptoms can be signs of BV. Because of this, it is important to speak with your doctor about any changes you experience.

This article explains the differences and similarities between BV and yeast infection. It also goes over the causes, risk factors, and treatment for both conditions.

What is the difference between BV and yeast infection?

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BV occurs when Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source there is too much of a particular bacteria in the vagina. This overgrowth of bacteria changes the bacterial balance within the vagina.

A yeast infection occurs Trusted Source Office on Women's Health Governmental authority Go to source when a type of fungus or yeast called Candida becomes overgrown.

Both conditions can cause vaginal discharge. However, the type of discharge is one of the main differences between the two.

  • BV: You might experience grayish or white foamy discharge that has a strong fishy odor.
  • Yeast infection: Discharge is typically thick, white, and odorless. You may also notice a white coating around and in the vagina.

Another major difference is that BV commonly does not cause symptoms at all. Someone with a yeast infection will always experience symptoms.

Symptoms of BV and yeast infection may differ.

BV SymptomsYeast Infection Symptoms
strong fish-like odorpain during intercourse
thin, foamy dischargediscoloration or swelling of the vaginal area
soreness
thick, white, odorless discharge

Read more about bacterial vaginosis.

How are BV and yeast infections similar?

BV and yeast infection both affect the vaginal area. BV does not always cause symptoms, but the symptoms may be similar to those of a yeast infection.

Symptoms you may experience with either BV or yeast infection include:

  • itching in or around the vagina
  • burning or discomfort when urinating
  • vaginal irritation
  • unusual discharge

Contact your doctor if you experience unusual discharge, itching, or discomfort in your vaginal area.

What causes BV and yeast infection?

Both BV and yeast infections occur when there is a change in the typical bacterial balance within the vagina.

BV causes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source , BV is the most common vaginal condition in people assigned female at birth ages 15–44.

The exact cause of BV is not known. However, it more commonly occurs in people who are sexually active. BV is the result of an imbalance in the bacteria within the vagina. BV rarely affects people who have not had sex.

Having BV can increase your risk of developing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Yeast infection causes

Yeast infections are common Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source vaginal conditions. They are typically the result of an overgrowth of Candida. This type of yeast naturally lives on your skin and inside your body in areas such as the:

  • vagina
  • gut
  • mouth
  • throat

Generally, Candida lives in these areas and does not cause symptoms. However, interference with the balance of bacteria in the vagina can cause an overgrowth of Candida. This then leads to the development of a yeast infection.

Read more about yeast infections.

What are the risk factors for BV and yeast infection?

Certain factors may make you more likely to develop BV or a yeast infection. Having risk factors does not mean you will develop either condition.

Risk factors for BV include Trusted Source Office on Women's Health Governmental authority Go to source :

  • having a new or multiple sexual partners
  • douching
  • not using a condom or other barrier method when having sex, especially with multiple partners
  • being pregnant
  • having an intrauterine device (IUD)

Risk factors for yeast infections include:

  • usual changes in hormone levels, such as during your menstrual cycle
  • taking antibiotics, cortisone, or hormonal birth control
  • being pregnant
  • having diabetes
  • having a weakened immune system
  • having sex

Yeast infections can occur on the penis or scrotum. However, this is less common.

How are BV and yeast infections treated?

Doctors typically treat Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source BV with antibiotics. It is important to take the complete dose of antibiotics, even if symptoms begin to clear. Treating BV can help to reduce your risk of developing STIs.

Treatment for yeast infections generally involves Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source antifungal medication. This may be a medication applied inside the vagina or a single dose of a medication, fluconazole, taken orally.

If the yeast infection worsens, does not go away, or continuously returns, you may require further treatment. This may include further treatments of fluconazole or further medications to be applied inside the vagina.

Other frequently asked questions

Tahirah Redhead, MPAS, PA-C, MPH, has reviewed these questions people also ask about BV and yeast infections.

Will BV go away on its own?

Sometimes BV will clear without treatment. However, treating it helps reduce the risk of developing STIs.

How long does bacterial vaginosis last?

Typically, once you begin treatment, BV will clear within 2–3 days. However, it is important to complete the full dose of antibiotics as your doctor advises.

Which is worse, BV or yeast infection?

BV and yeast infections are both conditions that can cause discomfort in the vaginal area. BV may not always cause symptoms. However, a yeast infection does always have symptoms. Left untreated, BV can increase your risk of developing STIs.

Summary

BV and yeast infection are both common vaginal conditions. While BV may not always cause symptoms, yeast infections do.

One of the main differences between the two conditions is the discharge they may cause. BV may cause a thin, foamy, grayish discharge that has a strong odor. Yeast infections may cause a thick, white discharge that is odorless.

Both share similar symptoms, however. These include discomfort during urination, itching, and irritation.

Contact your doctor if you experience unusual discharge, itching, or discomfort in your vaginal area.

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Medical Reviewer: Tahirah Redhead MPAS, PA-C, MPH
Last Review Date: 2023 Feb 14
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