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Bacterial vaginosis vs. a yeast infection: How to tell the difference

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SymptomsCausesTreatment optionsGetting an accurate diagnosisSummary
Bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections are both types of vaginitis, but they are not the same thing. It is common to not know what kind of vaginitis you have before receiving a diagnosis.
Medically reviewed by Priya Patel, MD
Written by Cathy Lovering
Updated on

Bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections are both examples of vaginitis. But they’re not the same thing.

An imbalance of vaginal bacteria can cause bacterial vaginosis, while an overgrowth of Candida fungus in the vagina can cause a yeast infection.

Both conditions can share similar symptoms, which can often lead to confusion over what type of vaginitis you might have.

If it’s your first time having symptoms of either condition, it’s a good idea to speak with a doctor. They can help identify what condition you have and suggest a suitable treatment option.

Is there a difference between bacterial vaginosis and a yeast infection? 

Bacterial vaginosis and a yeast infection share similar symptoms, as well as some distinct ones. It’s not unusual for a person to not know what kind of vaginitis they have before receiving a diagnosis.

Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis

If you have bacterial vaginosis you may experience symptoms such as:

  • vaginal discharge that is white or gray
  • odor that is stronger following intercourse or during a menstrual period
  • vaginal pain, burning, or itching
  • itching around the outside of the vagina
  • burning sensation when you urinate

Symptoms of yeast infection

A yeast infection is also called vaginal candidiasis. Some of the symptoms are similar to bacterial vaginosis, but others are unique. You might experience:

  • vaginal soreness or itching
  • discharge that is odorless, white, and lumpy
  • pain during intercourse
  • pain or discomfort during urination
  • redness, cracks, or swelling in the vaginal walls
  • redness and swelling of the vulva

You will typically only have redness, cracks, or swelling if the yeast infection is severe.

What can cause bacterial vaginosis vs. a yeast infection? 

Although bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections are forms of vaginitis, they both have different causes. 

Causes of bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis happens when there’s an imbalance of the bacteria that naturally occurs in the vagina.

It’s unclear why this imbalance occurs, but some risk factors can make it more likely to develop the condition.

Those risk factors include:

  • washing out the vagina, also known as douching
  • not using condoms during intercourse
  • new sexual partners
  • multiple sexual partners

Although a bacterial imbalance is the cause of bacterial vaginosis, the condition is not a bacterial infection.

Causes of a yeast infection

A yeast infection is when there’s an overgrowth of the fungus Candida in the vagina. This disruption causes too much Candida in the vagina, and it can result in a yeast infection.

Risk factors for a yeast infection include:

Some medical conditions or treatments can weaken the immune system and increase the chance of developing a yeast infection. This includes chemotherapy, steroids, or HIV. 

What treatment options are available? 

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Both bacterial vaginosis and a yeast infection are treatable conditions. 

Treatment for bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis can sometimes go away without treatment. But it can be a good idea to explore treatment options to prevent side effects that can occur from bacterial vaginosis.

If you have bacterial vaginosis, you are at a greater risk of catching HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhea and chlamydia.

A doctor will typically prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial vaginosis. They are only available by prescription. You can take oral antibiotics or a cream or gel that you place inside the vagina.

Antibiotics for bacterial vaginosis include metronidazole (Likmez) and clindamycin (Cleocin).

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Treatment for a yeast infection

If it’s the first time you’ve had a yeast infection, it can be a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional. They can prescribe the right medication for treatment.

If you’ve had a yeast infection before, you might be able to use an over-the-counter (OTC) medication.

Antifungal medications for a yeast infection include:

  • topical creams and ointments, such as clotrimazole (Lotrimin), miconazole (Monistat), and tioconazole (Vagistat)
  • antifungal medications, such as oral fluconazole (Diflucan)
  • suppositories, such as butoconazole (Mycelex-3) and terconazole (Terazol)

Why is an accurate diagnosis important?

Bacterial vaginosis and a yeast infection share some common symptoms. Still, each condition has its own treatment. Speaking with a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis can help ensure you will get the right treatment quickly. 


Bacterial vaginosis is not a yeast infection, although both conditions are types of vaginitis. While they both have similar symptoms, they require different treatment options.

A doctor will typically prescribe antibiotics to help treat bacterial vaginosis. OTC antifungal or prescription medications can often treat a yeast infection.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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