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Vaginal discharge

As a fluid that is secreted from the tiny glands in the vagina and cervix, vaginal discharge serves various purposes, the primary among them being cleaning & moistening your vagina. The fluid keeps your vagina and the reproductive tract clean and healthy. It also helps prevent infections. The colour of the vaginal discharge, consistency, and smell may vary from person-to-person. Likewise, the amount also varies from day-to-day (depending on your menstrual cycle).

In the below post, we have explained in-depth all you need to know about vaginal discharge. From the different types of discharge to its causes to the different infections that may cause a change in the colour, smell and consistency of the discharge, this comprehensive article explains all. Thus, let’s check out what a normal vaginal discharge is along with varied signs that indicate there is a problem.

For further guidance, get in touch with a gynaecologist or schedule a well woman check up today!

A] Different Types of Vaginal Discharge

Most different types of vaginal discharge differ based on consistency and colour. If you notice a change in the colour, smell or the amount of vaginal discharge along with itchiness, a burning sensation or irritation in the genital area, then its a sign that there is an underlying problem which requires treatment. Some of the normal and atypical (unusual) vaginal discharge includes:

  • Clear Watery Discharge: This type of vaginal discharge is normal and can vary according to your menstrual cycle. Some women may also experience this after a rigorous workout session.
  • Clear and Stretchy Discharge: This is another type of normal vaginal discharge that indicates you are ovulating. Here, the discharge may appear clear, but the consistency may feel stretchy or mucous-like.
  • White Discharge: White discharge is normal at the start and end of your menstrual cycle. But, if you experience itchiness along with the discharge and the consistency is similar to cottage cheese-like, then its a sign of yeast infection.
  • Brown: You may experience brown vaginal discharge right after your periods. This is normal and indicates that your vagina is discharging old blood that looks brown.
  • Spotting and Bloody Discharge: It usually occurs mid-cycle or during ovulation. Spotting in between your periods can be a sign of pregnancy. Whereas, during the early phase of pregnancy, spotting can indicate a miscarriage. Also, in rare cases, a bloody vaginal discharge (or brown discharge) may be a sign of irregular periods or endometrial or cervical cancer.
  • Yellow or Green Discharge: This type of vaginal discharge may indicate a bacterial infection or STI if it is accompanied with fishy smell (unpleasant odour) and genital itching and burning. This requires immediate treatment.

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B] Causes of Vaginal Discharge

  • Yeast Infection: Also known as vaginal candidiasis, this is a fungal infection that leads to white, thick, cottage cheese-like discharge. While the presence of yeast is normal in the vagina, in certain situations, it can multiply exceedingly, which can cause problems. It is not considered an STI (sexually transmitted infection), and a few signs of yeast infection include intense itching, pain & swelling around the vulva, painful sexual intercourse, among others. Stress, using birth control pills, pregnancy, and diabetes are some of the reasons that can lead to yeast infection. However, it can be treated with the right medications.
  • Bacterial Vaginosis: This is another common vaginal infection that leads to foul-smelling watery, grey, white or green vaginal discharge. It is caused by the overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina, and some of its symptoms include vaginal itching and burning during urination. However, in some cases, there might be no symptoms. Having unprotected sex or frequent douching increases the risk of Bacterial Vaginosis, and if not treated, it can cause serious complications.
  • Trichomoniasis: This is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by a protozoan (single-celled organism), and results is a foul-smelling vaginal discharge in yellow or green. Some of the symptoms include vaginal spotting or bleeding, pain during urination or sexual intercourse, genital burning, redness, swelling or itching. However, some people may not experience any symptoms.
  • Gonorrhoea: This is a bacterial infection transmitted during sexual activity. Symptoms of gonorrhoea in women include frequent urination, genital itching, redness, swelling, burning, and yellow or green vaginal discharge. Some women may not have any symptoms. But, if not treated, it can cause long-term complications such as infertility, tubo-ovarian abscess, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
  • Chlamydia Trachomatis: This is another curable sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria. Painful periods, genital itching or burning, vaginal discharge with a foul odour, bleeding between periods are a few of the symptoms of Chlamydia Trachomatis. If not treated, it can cause serious health issues, while the treatment usually includes prescribed oral antibiotics.
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): This is an infection spread by sexual contact and can affect your reproductive organs. Pain during intercourse, pelvic pain, vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odour, frequent urination, and bleeding between the menstrual cycle are some of its symptoms.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV): This is a viral infection spread through sexual contact. It can cause brown/bloody watery discharge with a foul odour and can lead to cervical cancer. Some types of HPV can also cause warts in the genital area.

Further reading: Treatments for Pelvic Pain

C] When To See a Doctor and What to Expect at the Clinic?

While experiencing vaginal discharge is normal and common, if you have atypical vaginal discharge accompanied by the following symptoms, you need to seek medical help post-haste.

  • Blood-tinged vaginal discharge with a foul odour
  • Pain during intercourse and urination
  • Severe abdominal pain or vaginal pain
  • Green/yellow vaginal discharge
  • Soreness, burning/redness or swelling in the genital area
  • Itching of labia, vulva or vaginal opening
  • Any other visible signs of vaginal infection along with sores/blisters

At the clinic, the doctor will ask you about your menstrual cycle, sexual history, past STIs, any symptoms or atypical vaginal discharge. You would need to undergo a physical exam which includes a pelvic exam. This will help detect if there is an infection. If the problem is not diagnosed, the doctor might recommend some other tests, including cervical smear and HPV testing. Once the problem is detected, the doctor will recommend the ideal treatment option.

D] Home Care For Vaginal Discharge

Practising good hygiene is the first step to prevent infections. There is more likelihood to develop atypical vaginal discharge if you douche, make use of feminine hygiene products (powders, rinses or sprays) or wear tight or synthetic underwear/thongs.  Douching, in particular, is not recommended as it can wash away good bacteria, making your vagina more susceptible to infection.

Healthier home care practices for vaginal discharge include wearing cotton underwear, practising safe sex and using condoms, rinsing your genitals with plain water. To relieve itching and discomfort of the vulva, use a cold compress. Also, after your treatment beings, use protection or abstain from sex for a week.

Final Word

While vaginal discharge is common, pay attention to any change in colour, consistency and smell. An unusual vaginal discharge may be a sign of infection, bacterial imbalance, STI or cervical cancer (in rare cases). However, most atypical (unusual) vaginal discharge can be treated with the right medication, so seek help immediately before it causes any further health issues. Also, opt for well woman check up to detect any health risk at the earliest.

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Neha Goel

Neha Goel, a Psychology alumna and MBA graduate from CASS Business School, London, brings together her expertise as a Reiki Practitioner and Practice Manager. She integrates psychology and business strategies to foster holistic well-being and personal development.