Vaginal Discharge: What’s normal and what is not?
Vaginal discharge is seen as a normal cleansing process in the female reproductive system. It is a common phenomenon among girls and women. This discharge is in the form of fluid or mucus from the vaginal and the cervix glands. It helps in keeping the area clean and moist, washes away the dead cells and bacteria, and prevents infection.
However, in line with the various changes you experience in your body over time, this discharge also changes. Abnormal vaginal discharge is also commonly experienced by women during various stages of life. Abnormal vaginal discharge is different in appearance, odour and flow from what is expected. The presence of abnormal discharge indicates an underlying health concern such as infection or onset of menopause.
In this article, with insights from Dr. Astha Dayal, we will explore what is a vaginal discharge and what to expect from it.
What is normal vaginal discharge?
Normal vaginal discharge varies in amount depending on the time in your menstrual cycle. It varies from body to body. It could be clear or milky white in color, it is thick, sticky and slippery, and might have some odor.
In most women, this is normal. During ovulating, pregnancy, breastfeeding, using birth control or sexually aroused, there is a slight increase in discharge. It may smell different when a woman is pregnant or when she is not paying heed to personal hygiene.
However, none of these changes are a cause for concern. Vaginal discharge is a natural process and has no link with age.
The vaginal discharge amount may vary at times:
- Immediately, after periods, there is almost no discharge.
- A couple of days after the period ends, there is a thick, white discharge.
- A few days later, the consistency changes to appear more like mucous.
- Before ovulation, the discharge becomes clear and sticky.
- Before the next menstrual cycle, discharge is thick and white inconsistency.
- During pregnancy, the discharge is thin, white, milky and has a mild odor. The amount of discharge also increases during pregnancy.
- During perimenopause and menopause, the discharge decreases due to low estrogen levels.
What are the different types of vaginal discharge?
There are several different types of vaginal discharge that are usually characterised by their different colours and consistencies. Common types of vaginal discharge include:
The most common colour type of discharge is white. It is usually seen at the beginning or end of the menstrual cycle. While white discharge is normal, cottage cheese discharge which is thicker in appearance indicates an underlying health problem such as a yeast infection.
Clear and watery
Another common type of vaginal discharge is clear and watery. It is mostly seen after heavy exercising.
Clear and stretchy
Clear and stretchy discharge is identified by a mucus-like, stretchy discharge. This type of discharge is usually indicative of ovulation.
Brown or bloody
You may experience brown or bloody discharge around the time of your menstrual cycle, especially after. Blood discharge is also normally seen in between menstruation, this is known as spotting. If you experience spotting at a time which is not closer to your menstruation, it can be an early sign of pregnancy. In rare cases, this type of discharge may also indicate endometrial or cervical cancer.
Yellow or green
A yellow or green tinted discharge is not a normal type, especially when it is thick or has a foul odour. This type of discharge can indicate trichomoniasis infection.
What is abnormal vaginal discharge?
A change in the color, smell, or consistency especially if it is accompanied by vaginal itching or vaginal burning, could be indicative of an infection or any other underlying condition.
The change in the nature of discharge could be because of a change in the balance of the vaginal bacteria.
What causes abnormal vaginal discharge?
Abnormal vaginal discharge can result from a range of health concerns or underlying conditions. Here is a list of some common causes that can lead to abnormal vaginal discharge:
Antibiotic or steroid use
Antibiotics which are used to treat bacterial infections can upset the yeast and bacterial balance of your vagina causing the development of abnormal vaginal discharge.
Bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial infection more common in pregnant women or women who have multiple sexual partners. This infection can cause a fishy odour in the vagina along with vaginal irritation.
A vaginal yeast infection is a condition that causes irritation and abnormal whitish discharge from the vagina. It is caused by an overgrowth of fungus in the vagina. Symptoms of yeast infection discharge include a thick, white, cottage cheese-like discharge, along with itching, redness, irritation, and burning.
Almost 90 per cent of women will have a yeast infection at some point in their life. Yeast infections are not contagious, and over-the-counter antifungal creams are available for a patient to use.But, if symptoms don’t improve with treatment or you get these infections repeatedly, please consult a gynaecologist. The discharge experienced as a result of yeast infection is often thicker, creamy and white discharge no odour.
Birth control pills
Birth control pills can lead to the formation of an increased amount of vaginal discharge that is slightly different from the normal one. It does not usually indicate any illness and occurs due to an increased production of cervical fluid.
Cervical cancer occurs when the healthy cells in the cervix begin to divide and multiply at an abnormal rate leading to the formation of a mass called tumour. Cervical cancer can impact your vaginal discharge by making it foul smelling.
Sexually transmitted infections
A colour-tinted discharge, usually green or yellow, is indicative of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs can cause vaginal discharge smell along with itching and irritation.
Being diabetic can increase your chances of developing a yeast infection. It is because your body tends to get rid of excess sugar levels through bodily fluids such as vaginal discharge.
Douches, scented soaps or lotions, bubble bath
Douching is the process of cleaning out the vagina and vulva with a mixture of water and other fluids. Experts suggest that women should avoid douching as the vagina can clean itself. Douching can also increase your chances of developing vaginal infection. It is also advised that women should avoid using scented soaps or other products on the vagina as they can mix with your natural odour and cause vaginal irritation.
Pelvic infection after surgery & Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection causing pain, cervical tenderness and vaginal discharge or white discharge no odour. It usually spreads through sexually transmitted infections. It leads to the secretion of white, cloudy discharge.
Trichomoniasis is a parasitic infection typically contracted and caused by having unprotected sex. This infection can cause vaginal discharge that may be thick, thin or yellowish or green in colour.
Vaginal atrophy is a condition that causes the thinning and drying out of the vaginal walls during menopause. This condition can cause inflammation of the vaginal wall and lead to a thin, watery and yellow or grey-tinted discharge.
Vaginitis is an inflammation or irritation in or around the vagina leading to discharge, itching and pain. Abnormal vaginal discharge caused from vaginitis can be foul-smelling or brown or green in colour. It occurs due to a change in the balance of vaginal bacteria.
How is abnormal vaginal discharge diagnosed?
Abnormal vaginal discharge is usually detected or diagnosed when a woman visits a gyanecologist with complaints of above-given symptoms or during the regular screening.
Your gynaecologist will discuss your symptoms in detail along with your personal medical history. He/she will then perform a physical test and general health check including a pelvic exam and pap smear to examine and find out the cause of the discharge. In addition, your doctor may also perform a pH test and STD testing.
Types of Abnormal Discharge
|Milky or white. Odorless||Normal discharge||None||This is normal|
|Thick, white, and may resemble cottage cheese||Yeast infection||Vaginal itching, burning, soreness, or pain. Some women experience pain when urinating or having sex along with and redness, swelling or rash around the vulva||Consult your gynecologist|
|White, yellow or grey||Bacterial vaginosis||Fishy odor, itching, and swelling||Consult your gynecologist|
|Yellow or green, thick or chunky||Trichomoniasis or bacterial infection or sexually transmitted disease||Foul odor||Consult your gynecologist|
|Brown or bloody||Irregular menstruation or a sign of something more serious||Pelvic pain or vaginal bleeding||Consult your gynecologist|
|Cloudy, yellow||Gonorrhea||Pelvic pain||Consult your gynecologist|
Yeast Infection Discharge:
It is caused by an overgrowth of fungus in the vagina. Symptoms of yeast infection discharge include a thick, white, cottage cheese-like discharge, along with itching, redness, irritation, and burning.
Almost 90 percent of women will have a yeast infection at some point in their life. Yeast infections are not contagious, and over-the-counter antifungal creams are available for a patient to use.
But, if symptoms don’t improve with treatment or you get these infections repeatedly, please consult a gynecologist.
When to consult a doctor?
In case of the following, please consult your gynecologist:
- Change in color, smell or texture
- More than usual quantity of discharge
- Itching and soreness in the vaginal area
- Bleeding between periods or after sex
- Pain while urinating
- Pelvic pain
Home remedies for Vaginal discharge
While it is recommended to visit a verified gynaecologist for effective treatment of abnormal vaginal discharge, you may take the following measures to help for temporary relief from symptoms.
Common home remedies for vaginal discharge
Greek yoghurt – Probiotics such as Greek yoghurt contains live bacteria and supports in creating a healthy environment for your vagina.
Coconut oil – Coconut oil has several health benefits. It is popularly known for its antifungal properties. Coconut oil can help in treatment of vaginal yeast infection.
Tea tree oil – Tea tree oil is an essential oil used for the treatment of viral, bacterial or fungal infection. Tea tree oil also has antimicrobial properties that can help in easing vaginal irritation caused by abnormal discharge.
Apple cider vinegar – Apple cider vinegar is a popular remedy for the treatment of vaginal yeast infection.
Vitamin C – Along with being a immune system booster, vitamin C helps in retaining the vaginal balance and treatment of yeast infections.
How To Stop Discharge Every Day In Case of Infections?
If you are suffering from a vaginal infection, it is recommended that you should practice the following measures to help control or stop excessive discharge:
- Wear cotton underpants everyday
- Avoid wearing tight undergarments
- Avoid practicing douching
- Consult your gynaecologist for early intervention
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