Most of the time, vaginal discharge is perfectly normal. It works as a housekeeper for female reproductive system. Therefore, a sudden change in your discharge could be a sign of a problem.
Normal vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge is the mucus produced from the cervix, the lower part of the womb that leads into the vagina. It helps keeps your vagina moist and prevent infection.
The amount of vaginal discharge can vary, as can odor and hue (its color can go from clear to a milky white), depending on the time in your menstrual cycle. For example, you produce more vaginal discharge if you are ovulating, breastfeeding, and less after the menopause. The odor may be different if you are pregnant or you haven’t been diligent enough to take care of your personal hygiene.
None of those changes raise the alert. However, if the color or smell keeps unusual, especially if it goes along with vaginal itching or burning, it could be infections or other conditions.
Abnormal vaginal discharge
Any change in the vagina’s balance of normal bacteria can influence the smell, color, or discharge texture. These are a few of the things that can create the imbalance:
- Antibiotic or steroid use
- Bacterial vaginosis, a bacterial infection more common in pregnant women or women who have more than one sexual partners
- Birth control pills
- Cervical cancer
- Chlamydia or gonorrhea – sexually transmitted infections (STI)
- Pelvic infection after surgery
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Trichomoniasis, an infection caused by parasites, and typically transmitted by having unprotected sex.
- Vaginal atrophy, the thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal walls during menopause
- Vaginitis, irritation in or around the vagina
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Douching or condom/tampon stuck in your vagina
See the table below to know more about types of unusual discharge and their meanings.
Get medical advice
If you find out any unusual changes in your vaginal discharge, visit a gynecologist. The doctor may:
- ask about your symptoms and sexual history – such as whether you’re sexually active, you’ve have had a recent change in sexual partner, or use contraception
- ask to carry out an examination of your vagina
- take your discharge to use as samples to be checked for infection
- take a sample of blood so it can be tested for other sexually transmitted infections
Treatment for abnormal discharge
Treatment will depend on what’s causing your problems, but often involves a short course of medication.
Below are some tips to prevent vaginal infections that can lead to abnormal discharge:
- Keep the good vaginal hygiene by washing regularly with a gentle, mild soap and warm water.
- Avoid scented soaps and feminine products or douche.
- After going to the bathroom, always wipe from front to back to protect the vagina against attack by bacteria and causing an infection.
- Wear 100% cotton underpants, and avoid very tight clothing.
Notes to young girls and post-menopausal women
It’s unusual for young girls to have abnormal vaginal discharge before they’ve started puberty. See a doctor if this happens, because discharge could be the result of inflammation of the vulva caused by streptococcal bacteria.
Abnormal discharge also rarely happens to older women. Visit your GP if you’ve experienced the menopause and get abnormal vaginal discharge or vaginal bleeding.
The causes can be among the list above; however, it can be the growth of the womb or lining of the cervix (cervical polyps) or possibly womb cancer.
It’s important to diagnose womb cancer as early as possible, so don’t ignore the symptoms – especially vaginal bleeding.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: January 16, 2017 | Last Modified: February 13, 2017
Vaginal discharge: What’s abnormal? http://www.webmd.com/women/guide/vaginal-discharge-whats-abnormal#1. Assessed January 9, 2017
Vaginal discharge. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vaginal-discharge/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Assessed January 9, 2017