As women, vaginal discharge is something that we have become accustomed to by now. We don’t fret over the regular white discharge. However, here are certain things that you must know about vaginal discharge. Remember that even white discharge is not normal every time.
What Is Vaginal Discharge?
Glands inside a woman’s vagina and cervix produce a fluid that comes out of her regularly. It carries out the cells that have lined the vagina previously. This fluid helps keep the vagina clean. Furthermore, it prevents infections and lubricates it.
Generally, the discharge has the following characteristics –
- It is clear and watery in texture
- It may smell slightly but doesn’t have a foul odour
- The slight yellow tint on your underwear is because of vaginal discharge
Rate of discharge, it’s odour, colour and texture change with stages of menstrual cycles.
Types Of Vaginal Discharge
1. Clear & Watery
The normal vaginal discharge is clear and watery. Its amount differs from person to person. Also, the amount varies with the time of the month and the activities you perform. Ovulating, exercising, or being sexually aroused leads to excessive watery discharge.
- A milky white discharge week before period or white discharge after period is normal if it has no odour associated with it
- If it is a thick white discharge with a cottage-cheese like texture and smells bad, it may be due to a yeast infection. Yeast infection shows itself in other symptoms too such as itching, pain, burning sensation and redness in your private parts
3. Clear & Stretchy
Instead of a watery discharge, if the fluid flowing out of you is a white sticky discharge, a little mucus-like, know that white discharge reason is that you are ovulating. The white discharge before period is of this kind. Mucus produced in a female body before ovulation is 30 times more than after ovulation. Also, this type of discharge is watery and more elastic.
4. Pale Yellow & Stretchy
Pregnancy discharge is pale yellow, sticky and stretchy.
5. Blood-Coloured Or Brown
- Brownish or bloody fluid may get discharged during your periods (usually towards the end of it) or just after it. It is perfectly normal
- Light vaginal bleeding between two successive menstruations is called spotting. It is not exactly normal but nothing to be afraid of. Spotting instead of usual monthly bleeding may be a prophesier of pregnancy. Brownish pregnancy discharge in place of the yellow discharge may be due to miscarriage. Sometimes (in rare cases), spottings might occur due to endometrial or cervical cancer, fibroids and other abnormal growths. Most of the time, it might not be anything serious. However, it is always better to consult a doctor
6. Yellow, Green Or Grey
A yellow or green discharge is not normal, especially if it’s accompanied by an unpleasant odour or itchiness, or both.
- A white, grey, yellow discharge accompanied with fishy odour is a symptom of bacterial vaginosis
- If the discharge is yellow or green and thick or chunky in texture, it may be because of trichomoniasis. Usually, this is accompanied by a foul odour
- A cloudy yellow discharge with pelvic pain can be due to gonorrhoea
Causes Of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Normal vaginal discharge is healthy. It’s our bodies’ way of cleaning and lubricating our vaginas. However, anything out of normal is due to the disturbance of a healthy balance of microorganisms in the vagina and uterus. The reasons behind these changes might be as follows –
- Change in the odour of vaginal discharge, especially to an unpleasant one
- Colour of the discharge changes from clear to greenish, greyish, or like pus
- Frothy or cottage cheese texture of discharge
- Itching, burning, swelling, or redness of private parts
- Bleeding and spotting that isn’t menstrual
These symptoms might show due to the following reasons –
- Douching and feminine hygiene sprays
- Certain soaps and bubble baths
- Antibiotics, steroids, or birth control pills
- Vaginal atrophy; thinning and drying out of vaginal walls during menopause
- Vaginitis; inflammation of the vagina
Infections Leading To Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
1. Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Vaginal bacteriosis or bacterial vaginosis is an infection caused by the overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in the vagina. Lactobacilli stay inside our vaginas and maintain an acidic pH to hinder the growth of harmful bacteria. When their levels drop, it leads to bacterial vaginosis. BV isn’t a problem in itself but may lead to complications in pregnancy, increased susceptibility to STIs, and post-surgical infections. The most common way to acquire BV is from an infected partner.
About half of the time, women show no symptoms for BV. However, if they do, it includes:
- White, yellow, or grey watery discharge that has a strong, foul and fishy odour
- Strong fishy odour just after sex
- Burning sensation when you pee
- Irritation around and outside of the vagina and vulva
Any woman can be diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis but risks are more if you:
- Are sexually active
- Have an infected partner or if your partner has sexual relations with someone infected.
- Douche or wash with scented bath products
- Use intrauterine birth control devices (IUD)
Diagnosis And Treatment:
- BV usually gets cured by itself. However, if the symptom persists, consult a doctor. It may lead to complications in the future. Also, it might be something more serious than bacterial vaginosis
- Doctors usually order a physical examination to diagnose BV or order a few tests before starting treatment
- Ninety per cent of these cases are treated with antibiotics. Metronidazole is the most common antibiotic for BV. Others include clindamycin and tinidazole
- No home remedy is officially recommended for BV. However, the consumption of probiotics in the form of yoghurt, cheese and pickles may help
2. Yeast Infection
Yeast infection is caused when there is a disturbance in the balance of fungus in our vagina. Lactobacilli kills harmful microorganisms. When there is a drop in its levels, a fungus called Candida grows to cause a yeast infection.
Itchiness and discomfort are the main symptoms of yeast infections. Also, yeast infection discharge is different from the usual one. The indications include –
- Thick white discharge like cottage cheese (Don’t confuse it with milky white discharge)
- Redness, burning, and swelling of the vagina and vulva
- Pain while peeing or during sex
Yeast infections are the most common of vaginal sepsis. It is a rough calculation that 75% of the women will have at least one yeast infection in their lifetimes.
However, some factors make you more susceptible to it.
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause or birth control pills might increase the risks of catching a yeast infection
- Uncontrolled diabetes may lead to an increase in levels of sugar in the mucous membranes of your vagina and create a space for the yeast to grow
- Antibiotics lead to the killing of lactobacillus which further facilitates fungus germination
- Douches and vaginal sprays have chemicals that disturb the normal balance of organisms in the vagina
- If you are suffering from an immune disorder such as AIDS, you are more susceptive to yeast infections
- Though a yeast infection is not an STD, it can be passed from person to person through sexual contact
Diagnosis And Treatment:
Usually, a physical examination suffices to diagnose yeast infections. However, depending on the situation, your doctor may prescribe certain tests.
- Over-the-counter ointments, anti-fungal creams, and suppositories can help you get rid of a fungal infection in about a week. Remember that such creams reduce the effect of diaphragms and condoms increasing your prospects of getting pregnant or catching STIs
- A single-dose pill with fluconazole may be taken by women who aren’t pregnant
- If you catch yeast infections, again and again, this condition is termed as recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (RVVC). You must seek counsel from a trusted gynaecologist in such a situation
- Home remedies include taking probiotics and applying oils with antiseptic properties (for example, coconut oil) to the infected area
Remember that yeast infection discharge is thick like cottage cheese and not like the white discharge a week before the period. White discharge after sex is thicker than usual; don’t confuse it with the one during a yeast infection.
3. Gonorrhea & Chlamydia
Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia are two sexually transmitted infections caused due to an overgrowth of bacteria in our vaginas. While gonorrhoea is associated with the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Chlamydia is associated with Chlamydia trachomatis. It is common to have these two conditions together. These infections can move up to your uterus and fallopian tubes or develop in your rectum.
Women and men, suffering from gonorrhoea and/or Chlamydia may or may not develop any symptoms. With chlamydia, prodromes usually appear after a few weeks of being infected while, with gonorrhoea, signs may not be visible at all. The common symptoms include –
- Yellow, cloudy, or green discharge from the vagina
- Intense pain in the pelvic area
- Burning sensation while peeing
- Vaginal bleeding out of menstrual cycles
The main cause of gonorrhoea and chlamydia is sexual intercourse with an infected partner.
- Chances are more for you if you have multiple partners or a partner who has sexual relationships with other people
- Not using protection properly or barrier-breaking during intercourse can not only heighten your odds of getting pregnant but also make you more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections. Even if the activity doesn’t involve penetration, touching the genitals is enough of a cause for gonorrhoea and chlamydia. They may spread via oral and anal sex
- Douching disturbs the balance of microorganisms in your private parts. This increases your chances of catching an STI
Diagnosis And Treatment:
- Just like other vaginal ailments, gonorrhoea and chlamydia can be diagnosed by pelvic examination. However, to be sure, your doctor may run through some urine tests, blood tests or swab culture
- Both these infections can be treated with antibiotics. Consult your doctor and follow his instructions strictly. However, your body is likely to get resistant to the microbicidal. Therefore it is strongly advised to complete the round
4. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or PID is caused when sexually-transmitted bacteria travels up your cervix and vagina to the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia infections are the most common ones that lead to PIDs. In rare cases, the insertion of IUDs or medical instruments leads to PIDs. However, the increase in the risk of PIDs after the insertion of intrauterine devices lasts for about three weeks.
The symptoms of the pelvic inflammatory disease may not be easily recognizable. Most women don’t show signs unless complications arise due to pregnancy or the pain becomes unbearable. The common indications include –
- Yellowish, greenish or cloudy discharge that is heavy and has a strong odour
- Pelvic or lower abdominal pain
- Bleeding between two successive menstrual phases or just after sexual intercourse
- Pain during sex or while peeing
- Fever with occasional chills, nausea, and vomiting
The risk of catching a pelvic inflammatory disease increases with the risk of acquiring gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Risks are more in cases of –
- Sexually active woman of more than 25 years of age
- Multiple sex partners
- Sex without protection
- A history of sexually transmitted diseases, especially gonorrhoea and Chlamydia or have suffered from a PID before
- Underwent a procedure that had medical instruments inserted in your vagina
Diagnosis and Treatment:
- PIDs can’t be diagnosed by symptoms or physical examination. Urine and swab testing, ultrasound and even a pregnancy test may be recommended.
- If detected early, pelvic inflammatory diseases can effectively be treated with antibiotics. The late diagnosis makes it tougher to deal with such cases. So, if you doubt a PID, don’t delay any further and consult your gynaecologist today
Methods To Prevent Abnormal Vaginal Discharge Or Vaginal Infections
- Always wash properly after using the toilet or wipe from front to back
- Wear cotton underpants; don’t put tight bikini shorts, leotards, or pantyhose on for long periods
- Avoid douching. Keep away from the perfumed bath and hygiene products
- Take yoghurt regularly to maintain a healthy number of lactobacilli in your vagina
When Should You See A Doctor?
Call on a doctor in the following situations.
- The discharge from your vagina is greenish, greyish, yellowish, cloudy or thick and cottage cheese-like
- Your vagina develops a strong and foul odour
- You feel itchy and burning sensations in and around your private parts
- There is bleeding and spotting outside of your menstrual cycles
- You feel a burning sensation while peeing or during sexual intercourse
Vaginal discharge is natural and a very common occurrence. White discharge is nothing to be concerned about. However, unusually coloured or smelly discharges may point towards huge underlying issues. Yes, vaginal discharge causes a slight smell. However, rather than a pungent odour, it is a slight scent. In such a condition, calling on a doctor becomes imperative. Start taking appropriate measures to give your body the treatments it deserves and needs. See a doctor today if the vaginal discharge has been bothering you lately.