Vaginal secretions contribute to the health of vaginal tissues, provide lubrication, and protect against infection and discomfort. The amount, color, and consistency of normal vaginal discharge change according to the stage of your reproductive (menstrual) cycle, ranging from whitish and sticky to clear and fluid.
Vaginal discharge that is abnormal — for example, fluid with an unusual odor or color, or discharge that occurs in conjunction with itching or pain — may indicate a problem.
There are several different types of vaginal discharge. These types are categorized based on their color and consistency. Some types of discharge are normal. Others may indicate an underlying condition that requires treatment.
Normal Vaginal Discharge
Clear and watery discharge: It is totally normal to have a clear and watery discharge. It is possible for it to occur at any time during the month. It may be particularly heavy following exercise.
Clear and stretchy discharge: When your discharge is clear yet stretchy and mucous-like in consistency rather than watery, you are most likely ovulating. This is also normal.
Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
White discharge: It’s common to have some white discharge, especially at the start or end of your menstrual period. If the discharge is itchy and has a thick, cottage cheese-like substance or look, it is not normal and requires treatment. This kind of discharge could indicate a yeast infection.
Bloody discharge: This is usually considered normal, especially during or immediately following your menstrual cycle. If you have a late discharge at the end of your period, it may appear brown rather than red. Between periods, you may also experience a small amount of bloody discharge. This is referred to as spotting.
If you experience spotting during your normal period and have recently engaged in sexual activity without protection, this could be a sign of pregnancy. Spotting early in pregnancy may be a sign of miscarriage.
Bloody discharge may be a sign of endometrial or cervical cancer in rare cases. Other issues, such as fibroids or other abnormal growths, could be the cause. This is why it is critical to have a pelvic exam and Pap smear performed on a yearly basis.
Yellow or Green Discharge: A yellow or green discharge, particularly one that is thick, chunky, or has a foul odor, is not typical. This type of discharge may be an indication of trichomoniasis infection which is commonly spread through sexual intercourse.
Causes of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Causes of abnormal vaginal discharge include:
Bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial infection that is quite common. It results in increased vaginal discharge with a strong, unpleasant, and occasionally fishy odor, however, it does not always cause symptoms. Women who have oral sex or have several sexual partners are at a higher risk of having bacterial vaginosis.
Trichomoniasis produces a yellow or green discharge with an unpleasant odor. Pain, inflammation, and itching may also be present.
A yeast infection is a fungal infection that produces white, cottage cheese-like discharge in addition to burning and itching sensations. The presence of yeast in the vagina is normal, but its growth can multiply out of control in certain situations.
Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia Infection
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can produce an abnormal discharge. It’s often yellow, greenish, or cloudy in color.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a sexually transmitted infection. It occurs as a result of bacteria spreading up the vaginal wall and into the other reproductive organs. It may cause a strong, odiferous discharge.
While this type of cancer may have no symptoms, it may produce a red, brown, or watery discharge with an unpleasant odor. Cervical cancer can be easily detected with routine Pap screenings and HPV testing.
When To See The Doctor
See your doctor immediately if you experience an unusual discharge in addition to certain other symptoms. Among the signs to watch for are the following:
- Greenish, yellowish, thick, or cheesy vaginal discharge
- Strong vaginal odor
- Redness, itching, burning, or irritation of your vagina or the area of skin that surrounds the vagina and urethra (vulva)
- Bleeding or spotting unrelated to your period