Vaginal discharge is a normal and regular occurrence in women of all ages. However, discharge that is abnormal in colour, consistency, odour or accompanied by other symptoms may indicate otherwise.
VAGINAL INFECTIONS AND DISCHARGE
Vaginal discharge is usually white or clear and watery. Some women produce a discharge which is clear and stretchy like mucus during ovulation. It is also normal for women to experience brown or bloody discharge towards the end of their periods.
Symptoms of abnormal discharge:
- Yellow or green in colour
- Thick in consistency (similar to cottage cheese)
- Accompanied by an unpleasant smell
- Accompanied by itchiness
- Accompanied by fever and/or pain
Abnormal vaginal discharge can be caused by an infection. A white and thick discharge accompanied by vaginal itchiness or swelling is a sign of vaginal yeast infection or candidiasis.
Trichomoniasis, a sexually-transmitted infection, may result in a yellow or green discharge with a foul smell and is usually accompanied by pain and vaginal itchiness.
Bacterial vaginosis, a common bacterial infection which also occurs during pregnancy, may cause increased vaginal discharge accompanied by a foul and fishy odour.
Though these common vaginal infections can be easily diagnosed by a doctor and treated with medication, creams and ointments, abnormal discharge can be a symptom of STIs.
What is vaginal discharge? Essentially, it is just a mix of cervical mucus and vaginal secretions. “Normal” vaginal discharge looks and feels different for many women. Most of the time, you have nothing to worry about, because your vaginal discharge is normal. However, there are certain types that are abnormal and could be a sign of an infection.
What is vaginal discharge?
Let’s jump right in. Tell us about vaginal discharge and what the different characteristics mean. In general, discharge generally comes from the vagina and cervical mucus. What that means is that the skin inside the vagina and the cervix are always going to produce some kind of discharge. What I, as a physician, consider discharge to be, is a normal or physiological bodily function that helps keep the vagina healthy. However, sometimes the discharge can have certain colors, odors, or textures that can be a sign of either physiologic changes or an infection.
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Can you dive more into what you mean by normal vaginal discharge?
Normal, or “physiologic” discharge is healthy and something that you would expect to have every day. You’ll typically notice a clear or whitish discharge without any foul odor. The texture may vary and be thin, watery, or stringy, and this can depend on the time of the month. The volume might change as well — you might have a little bit every day, or nothing on some days and a lot on other days. Basically, there is a wide range of what is normal but it is important to know what is normal for your body.
What is your process for understanding vaginal discharge if a patient comes in concerned?
There are a few things that I generally do as a doctor to understand whether vaginal discharge is normal or abnormal. Certain factors, such as color, can be very important. Some of the other facts I need to know beforehand are:
- Is the female patient premenopausal or postmenopausal?
- Is she pregnant?
- Does she have any other complaints along with the discharge, such as fever or abdominal pain?
- Has she had any itching?
- Does it have a foul or fishy odor?
- Has she had a fever?
- Does she feel anything funny down there like a bump or a rash?
- Is this vaginal discharge only occurring during intercourse?
- Itchiness in vagina
- Has she had any unprotected sex or any new sexual partners?
- How long has she been having this?
Causes of vaginal discharge, normal and abnormal
Normal vaginal discharge is a healthy bodily function. It is mostly the means taken by your body system to clean and protect the vagina. When you work out or engage in other physical activities, the tendency is for your discharge to increase. Also you would tend to experience additional discharge sexual arousal, ovulation, when you use birth control pill, and when you are suffering from emotional stress.
On the other hand, the major cause of abnormal vaginal discharge is infection.
Bacterial vaginosis is a common bacterial infection. This infection can result to excessive or a boost in your vaginal discharge. It usually comes in a strong, foul-smelling and occasionally fish-like odor. In some instances, however, it doesn’t have any significant symptom. Women who commonly receive oral sex or who have many sexual partners tend to have more of this type of infection.
This is second type of infection. It is usually caused by a single celled organism known as protozoan. The infection is usually contracted during sexual interactions, but it can as well be transmitted by sharing towels or bathing suits. This infection usually comes in a yellow or green color and has a foul-smelling odor. It can as well result to pain, inflammation, and itching. However, a few people would not experience any symptoms.
A yeast infection is a fungal infection that results in white, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge. It also results in burning and itching sensations. It is normal to have yeast in your vagina but, if it grows out of hand it could result in yeast infections. This type of condition frequently occurs when you are having any of the conditions below:
- when you suffer from stress
- when you suffer from diabetic condition
- when you are making use of birth control pill
- It can occur when you are pregnant
- when you are on an antibiotic medication particularly if you have used it for more than 10 days
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted infections. They can create an abnormal discharge, which is frequently yellow, greenish, or cloudy in color.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection that is frequently transmitted through sexual contact. It exists when bacteria disperses round the vagina and into other parts of the woman’s reproductive system. It may result in a heavy and distasteful smelling discharge.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) or Cervical Cancer
The human papilloma virus (HPV) infection is cancer of the cervix. It is normally transmitted through sexual contact. It can result in cervical cancer. Although, it may not come with symptoms, this type of cancer can result to a bloody, brown, and/or watery discharge with a bad odor. Cervical cancer can readily be prevented or discovered when you go for normal annual pap smears routine checks through HPV testing.
Does pregnancy affect vaginal discharge?
Absolutely! For women that are currently pregnant, they tend to experience more discharge than average. So much and it could actually feel so wet that they feel like are urinating or leaking urine. Sometimes there can be so much discharge that some women think they might have broken their water!
Discharge and age
Does a woman’s age have any effect on vaginal discharge?
I would say for women that are older and post-menopausal, vaginal discharge should be discussed with a doctor to understand what it could mean. If it is just a thin, white discharge with no other associated symptoms, this probably is just normal physiologic discharge, similar to what she had going into menopause. However, if there is anything else abnormal about it, I would recommend speaking to a doctor. If there is any bleeding, unusual color, or symptoms such as itching, odor, or more production after intercourse, I would give a specialist a call and make an appointment to be checked.
Discharge and STIs
Can abnormal vaginal discharge mean it is a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
Some types of abnormal vaginal discharge could definitely be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection. That said, many patients who have chlamydia or gonorrhea have no symptoms at all. That is why it is so important for women to get tested for STIs even when everything feels OK.
This will be so helpful to our female readers! A lot of women feel uncomfortable discussing this with anyone, even the people closest to them. It isn’t the easiest topic to bring up in a casual conversation with friends. You could say “Hey, my throat is killing me, what should I take?” But it’s hard to casually say over a cup of coffee, “Hey, I have white discharge, do you know what that means?”
I think a lot of women are very shy when it comes to talking about vaginal discharge, but it’s important to know that it is normal and healthy to have. Even if it’s not a topic women discuss casually with their friends, you’re strongly advised to consult your local gynaecologist for a private consultation.
When to talk to us?
Most of the time, vaginal discharge is not something you should worry about. You should contact our specialist if you notice your vaginal discharge has changed from its typical consistency, color, and smell, or if you have other symptoms in your vaginal area.
You should discuss your vaginal discharge with our specialist if:
- it has changed in consistency and appears yellow, green, or even gray
- it resembles cottage cheese in color and consistency
- it looks foamy or frothy
- it has a strong smell of fish, yeast, or another odor
- it is brown or blood-stained
Also contact us if you experience vaginal itching, swelling, burning, or pain.
Unusual vaginal discharge may be a sign that you have an infection, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or another health condition that could include:
- yeast infection
- bacterial vaginosis
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)