Vaginal discharge is a substance composed of a mixture of liquid, cells, and bacteria to serve to protect and lubricate the vagina. It is produced constantly by the cells of the vagina and cervix and exits the body through the vaginal opening. The quality, amount, and composition of the discharge varies between individuals and may vary at different stages of sexual and reproductive development. It also varies according to the menstrual cycle and can also be an indication of imbalance or disease.
What is normal vaginal discharge?
A normal vaginal discharge tends to be thin and watery or thick and sticky in consistency and is usually clear or white in color. The normal discharge tends not to have an odor or cause vaginal itching or pain. There may be more discharge if you are ovulating, breastfeeding, or sexually aroused. The smell may be different if you are pregnant.
What is abnormal vaginal discharge?
Any change in the balance of normal bacteria in the vagina can affect the smell, color, or texture of the discharge. A few of the things that can upset that balance include:
Antibiotic or steroid use
Bacterial vaginosis, which is a bacterial infection that is not sexually transmitted, but is more common in women who have multiple sexual partners
Birth control pills
Chlamydia or gonorrhea, which are sexually transmitted infections
Scented soaps or lotions, bubble bath
Pelvic infection after surgery
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Trichomoniasis, which is a parasitic infection typically caused by having unprotected sex
Vaginal atrophy, which is thinning and drying out of the vaginal walls during and after menopause
Vaginitis, which is irritation in or around the vagina
When should you check with a doctor?
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
What are some of the questions your doctor will ask?
When did the abnormal discharge begin?
What color is the discharge?
Is there any smell?
Do you have any itching, pain, or burning in or around the vagina?
Do you have more than one sexual partner?
Do you douche?
What are some of the tests that may be done?
The doctor may take swabs from the vagina, cervix, and urethra for testing. Blood tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections may also be done.
How can abnormal vaginal discharge be treated?
Seek medical advice if you notice any unusual discharge. How you are treated will depend on the condition that’s causing the problem. For example, yeast infections are usually treated with antifungal cream, a vaginal tablet (pessary), or a tablet taken by mouth. Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotic pills or creams. Trichomoniasis is usually treated with the antibiotic metronidazole.
How can you prevent the development of an abnormal vaginal discharge?
Keep the vagina clean by washing regularly with a bar of gentle soap and warm water.
Never use scented soaps or douches. Also, avoid feminine sprays and bubble baths.
After going to the toilet, always wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from getting into the vagina and causing infection.
Wear 100% cotton underwear and avoid overly tight clothing.
Practice safe sexual practices including the use of a condom and having one faithful partner.
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