Health A-Z

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Your doctor will ask you to describe the vaginal odor and discharge. He or she also will ask you about your medical history, including:

  • The date of your last menstrual period

  • The number of sex partners you have

  • Whether you have had any vaginal or urinary tract infections before

  • Whether you have had any sexually transmitted diseases or pelvic infections

  • The method of contraception you use

  • Your pregnancy history

  • Personal hygiene habits, such as douching and your use of feminine deodorants

  • Whether you wear tightly fitting undergarments

  • Whether you use tampons

Your doctor also may ask if you have any other diseases, such as diabetes, or if you have used antibiotics recently.

Your doctor can diagnose bacterial vaginosis based on the results of a gynecological examination and laboratory tests of your vaginal fluid. There is no perfect test, but if you have three of the following four criteria, it is highly likely that you have bacterial vaginosis:

  • White, thin, coating on your vaginal walls during the pelvic exam

  • pH test of vaginal discharge that shows low acidity (pH greater than 4.5)

  • Fishy odor when a sample of vaginal discharge is combined with a drop of potassium hydroxide on a glass slide (the "whiff test")

  • Clue cells (vaginal skin cells that are coated with bacteria) visible on microscopic exam of vaginal fluid

Your doctor may order other laboratory tests to look for other causes of vaginal discharge.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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