Vaginal discharge is a term given to biological fluids contained within or expelled from the vagina.This serves an important housekeeping function in the female reproductive system. Fluid made by glands inside the vagina and cervix carries away dead cells and bacteria. This keeps the vagina clean and helps prevent infection.
Most of the time, vaginal discharge is perfectly normal. The amount can vary, as can odor and hue (its color can range from clear to a milky white-ish), depending on the time in your menstrual cycle. For example, there will be more discharge if you are ovulating, breastfeeding, or are sexually aroused. The smell may be different if you are pregnant or you haven't been diligent about your personal hygiene. None of those changes is cause for alarm.However, if the color, smell, or consistency seems significantly unusual, especially if it accompanied by vaginal itching or burning, you could be noticing an infection or other condition.
Any change in the vagina's balance of normal bacteria can affect the smell, color, or discharge texture.
These are a few of the things that can upset that balance:
Antibiotic or steroid use
Bacterial vaginosis, a bacterial infection more common in pregnant women or women who have multiple sexual partners
Birth control pills
Chlamydia or gonorrhea (STDs), sexually transmitted infections
Douches, scented soaps or lotions, bubble bath
Pelvic infection after surgery
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Trichomoniasis, a parasitic infection typically contracted and caused by having unprotected sex
Vaginal atrophy, the thinning and drying out of the vaginal walls during menopause
Vaginitis, irritation in or around the vagina
Types of Abnormal Discharge and Their Possible Causes
|ype of Discharge||What It Might Mean||Other Symptoms|
|Bloody or brown||Irregular menstrual cycles, or less often, cervical or endometrial cancer||Abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain|
|Cloudy or yellow||Gonorrhea||Bleeding between periods, urinary incontinence|
|Frothy, yellow or greenish with a bad smell||Trichomoniasis||Pain and itching while urinating|
|Pink||Shedding of the uterine lining after childbirth (lochia)|
|Thick, white, cheesy||Yeast infection||Swelling and pain around the vulva, itching, painful sexual intercourse|
|White, gray, or yellow with fishy odor||Bacterial vaginosis||Itching or burning, redness and swelling of the vagina or vulva|
Treatment depends on the cause
Here are some tips for preventing vaginal infections that can lead to abnormal discharge:
- Keep the vagina clean by washing regularly with a gentle, mild soap and warm water.
- Never use scented soaps and feminine products or douche. Also avoid feminine sprays and bubble baths.
- After going to the bathroom, always wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from getting into the vagina and causing an infection.
- Wear 100% cotton underpants, and avoid overly tight clothing