Is Vaginal Discharge Normal? Anything to Worry About?

Is Vaginal Discharge Normal? Anything to worry about
Medically reviewed by Dr. Mavra Farrukh

When it comes to women’s reproductive health, various factors count.  Vaginal discharge is one of the indicators.  It is a clear or whitish fluid-like material that discards dead cells, eggs, and reproductive debris from your body via the vagina and cleans your reproductive parts. It is believed that vaginal discharge is a potential indicator of your reproductive health and overall health.

This article aims to provide comprehensive information on the regular discharge of vaginal fluid, other types of discharge, and the associated conditions.

What is Vaginal Discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a term used for fluid or mucus that comes out of the vagina. It usually appears as a clear fluid or whitish liquid on the underwear. It serves an important housekeeping function in the female reproductive system. It is a common concern among women and leads them to see their healthcare provider. The amount, consistency, and color of the discharge may change based on the menstrual cycle stage. Some women may have been discharged daily, and some only on occasion. Furthermore, it is different from menstrual blood. 

Several things can cause discharge, including:

Cervical Mucus:

This is a clear or gel-like fluid produced by the cervix and by changes during pregnancy or a period cycle.

Arousal Fluid:

Sexual arousal triggers the production of arousal fluid by glands in and around the vagina. This fluid lubricates the vagina and then dissipates within an hour of arousal.

Vaginal discharge is perfectly fine most of the time, and none of those changes is cause for alarm.

Types and Colors of Discharge

There are six different color types of vaginal discharge depending on the color spectrum, odor, and texture: 

Blood Red to Dried Brown

Red or brown discharge is common during periods. Colors might range from bright red at the beginning of your period to rusty brown. Redness that persists throughout the month is a symptom of a severe health problem, such as an infection.

Cream to Milky White

Various white shades of vaginal discharge, from eggshell to creamy, can be considered standard unless certain textures or odors appear in the discharge.

Pale Yellow to a Greenish Discharge

It is quite common to experience a very light yellow discharge. Sometimes the color can be daffodil yellow or pale yellow. However, a dark yellow or green color is usually a sign of an infection.

Blush to Deep Pink Discharge

Pink vaginal discharge ranges from a very light blush pink to deep pink. It is often just a sign of the beginning of your menstrual cycle, but sometimes it can be a sign of a severe health problem.

Clear Discharge 

Clear discharge can also be whitish in color and is usually okay. It may have an egg-white-like consistency. A healthy body usually produces a vaginal discharge to keep the vagina healthy and to self-clean the organ.

Storm-cloud Gray Discharge

When white turns gray, like storm clouds or exhaust, you should consult a doctor or other healthcare professional, as it could be a symptom of bacterial vaginosis (BV), the common overgrowth of bacteria.

Fishy Smelly Yellow Discharge

Symptoms such as yellow discharge with a strong odor may indicate an infection, including bacterial vaginosis and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Therefore, it is better to consult a doctor.

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Infectious Causes of Vaginal Discharge

A vaginal discharge alone does not mean that there is an infection. However, if the discharge smells fishy, then you should see your healthcare provider. Mostly, the discharge is due to a vaginal infection, which can get serious if not treated on time. Infections in the vaginal area are most common in women aged 26–35.

  • Vaginal itching, burning, or irritation
  • Thick and clear vaginal discharge
  • A change in what the vaginal discharge typically looks like
  • A bad odor that lasts more than a day
  • Painful intercourse
  • Painful urination
  • Pain or tenderness in your lower abdomen
  • Blisters, bumps, or sores in your genital area.

Childhood vaginal discharges are caused by a variety of factors

● Bacterial infection of the digestive tract

● Using bubble baths or soaps that contain chemicals

● Invading the vaginal cavity with a foreign object

Usually, a vaginal discharge in the childbearing years is caused by an infection in the vaginal canal. In general, they are

● A bacterial infection

● An infection caused by yeast (candidiasis)

● A sexually transmitted disease, Trichomonas vaginitis

Moreover, as the estrogen levels decrease after menopause, the vagina thins and becomes drier, resulting in an abnormal discharge.

Noninfectious Causes of Vaginal Discharge

Most often, vaginal sprays, douches, and spermicidal products can cause a severe allergic reaction that results in noninfectious vaginal discharge. Scented soaps, detergents, or fabric softeners may also cause it.

The hormonal fluctuations associated with menopause can also result in noninfectious vaginitis, known as “atrophic vaginitis.” Furthermore, surgical removal of the ovaries or childbirth can also lead to noninfectious vaginitis. The following are the most common symptoms of noninfectious vaginal discharge; however, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

● Vaginal itching

● Vaginal discharge

● Vaginal burning

● Pelvic pain

● Pain during intercourse

Is Vaginal Discharge Normal?

Vaginal discharge is not usually a cause for concern, as it is normal, and most women and girls get it. It is a fluid or mucus that maintains the health of the vagina and protects it from bacteria and infections.

A typical discharge does not have the following

● It does not have a strong and unpleasant odor

● It is mostly clear or white

● It is ordinarily thick and sticky

● It is slippery and white

● It can leave a yellowish tint on your underwear

You can get a vaginal discharge at any age, but the release amount varies. You usually get a heavier amount of discharge during pregnancy. You can also get a vaginal discharge if you are sexually active or using birth control. For a few days between periods, it is often slippery and wet.

Vaginal discharge consists of fluids from the uterus, cervix, and vagina. You may notice that your vaginal fluid becomes thicker when the egg is released from the ovary. This also indicates when fertility is at its peak. Perimenopausal, menopausal, and postmenopausal women may experience more vaginal discharge due to this.

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Preventive Measures to Avoid Vaginal Discharge

There is no need to prevent normal vaginal discharge, as it is your body’s way of keeping your vagina clean and healthy. However, following these tips in cases of abnormal vaginal discharge, you can prevent it.

● After using the toilet, always properly wipe from front to back, as this helps prevent bacteria from entering your rectal area and your vaginal area.

● Always wear cotton panties during the day, as cotton allows your genital area to breathe. Don’t wear panties at night.

● Avoid wearing tight clothes, especially pants, swimming suits, or biking shorts, for a long time.

● Change your laundry detergent if it irritates your genital area.

● Avoid hot tubs

● Your genital area should be wiped dry after taking a shower every day

● Avoid douching

● Avoid feminine hygiene sprays, colored or scented toilet paper, scented pads or tampons, and bubble baths.

● The latex material in condoms and diaphragms and the sperm-killing gels used for birth control can irritate some women and cause abnormal vaginal discharge. So if you think one of these things is a problem, you should talk to your doctor about other types of birth control.

● During periods, don’t wear tampons or pads for too long.

Diagnosis of vaginal discharge

Usually, vaginal discharges are not considered a severe threat, so most doctors don’t perform any physical exams to evaluate them. However, if the condition is painful and includes burning, itching, or pain, a physical pelvic exam and some tests are done by the doctor. Also, the clinician will ask you several questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing and the cycle of your menstruation.

Physical Pelvic Exam: During an examination of the vagina, the doctor checks for abnormalities within the tissues and organs using a vaginal speculum and their hands. It usually takes only a few minutes to perform a pelvic exam. Any irregularities in the vulva, vagina, cervix, ovaries, uterus, rectum, and pelvis are checked by your doctor. This exam is safe for women between the ages of 21 and 65. If the doctor cannot detect the abnormality through a physical exam, he may take a sample of your vaginal discharge with a spatula or brush and run the following tests:

Wet Mount Test: The wet mount vaginitis test, or wet prep, detects infections of the vaginal canal to determine if there are yeast, bacterial, or parasitic infections causing irritation and discharge.

pH Test: Since infections can change the pH of the vagina, a vaginal pH test measures how acidic the vaginal fluid is. The test involves putting a pH paper on the internal wall of the vagina for a few minutes, then comparing the pH paper’s color to that on the chart that comes with the test kit.

STI Test: Lab tests are performed to identify whether gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, or anything else is causing the discharge.

Treatment of vaginal discharge

A clinician will provide treatment options after determining the reason for discharge. Rarely, surgery may be required in addition to antibiotics.

● Yeast infections are treated with creams or gels inserted into the vaginal canal.

● Itching can be relieved by an antihistamine or a corticosteroid cream, such as hydrocortisone.

● Metronidazole (Flagyl) or tinidazole (Tindamax) is typically prescribed to treat infections caused by parasitic tremors.

● Medications such as Flagyl and Metrogel-Vaginal are used to treat bacterial vaginosis.

● Estrace, Premarin can be used to treat vaginitis due to menopause.

● Clindamycin (Cleocin, Clindesse), Tinidazole (Tindamax), and Secnidazole (Solosec) are some antibiotics to treat bacteria that cause infections.

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Medical conditions associated with vaginal discharge

Vaginal discharge is considered to be normal unless it indicates any serious illness. There are a number of medical problems associated with vaginal discharge; some of them are mentioned below.

Yeast infection

A yeast infection in the vagina happens when a specific fungus grows out of control in your vagina. It produces a thick, white, cheese-like vaginal discharge, and your vagina may swell and be itchy, which can also cause painful sex. Up to 4 out of every 5 women are likely to experience a vaginal yeast infection at some point in their lives. Antifungal medications can be used to treat yeast infections.

Trichomoniasis or trich

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) you get from having sexual intercourse with an infected person. A parasite causes trichomoniasis, and it makes your vaginal discharge green, yellow, or gray and bubbly or frothy. It can cause soreness, swelling, and itching around the vagina, and sometimes the inner thighs also become itchy. It is treated with antibiotics.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

It occurs when there is too much of a certain bacteria in your vagina, which can be transmitted through sexual intercourse but not always. People with bacterial vaginosis may experience a white or gray discharge that has a foul, fishy smell. It is also treated with antibiotics. It can cause burning while urinating, vaginal irritation, and an unusual vaginal discharge. It may also be foamy or watery. Tinidazole, metronidazole and clindamycin are antibiotics used to treat bacterial vaginosis.

Gonorrhea (clap) and chlamydia

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are two common STIs you can get from sexual intercourse with an infected person. Both infections can be treated with antibiotics from your healthcare provider. Some people with these infections have cloudy, yellowish, or greenish vaginal discharge. If these STIs are left untreated, the infection may spread, causing pelvic inflammatory disease and pelvic pain. It can be cured with the proper medication. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend taking 500 mg of ceftriaxone intramuscularly in one dose.

When to consult a doctor for vaginal discharge?

It isn’t uncommon for women to experience vaginal discharge most of the time. It is a fluid that helps to keep the vagina clean and infection-free. But its color, odor, texture, and amount can differ depending on your menstrual cycle. Vaginal discharge also varies from woman to woman. Some women may have discharge daily, and some may experience it less frequently. It is also essential to know that it mainly changes over the course of a woman’s menstrual cycle. 

A normal vaginal discharge does not cause any irritation, and, likely, you will not even know that you have any discharge until you see some in your underwear. It usually increases during pregnancy or when you are sexually aroused. But if you are still concerned about your vaginal discharge, then you should consult your doctor. 

See your doctor if you notice any ulcers or genital sores, if you start having pain in your lower abdomen, or if sex becomes painful.

Your Doctors Online has a team of experienced doctors who can examine and accurately diagnose whether your vaginal discharge is a sign of a problem or just a normal discharge.

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FAQs About Vaginal Discharge Answered by Your Doctors Online Team

Why does the discharge look reddish?

A bloody discharge from the vaginal area may be caused by an infection, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Vaginitis is one of them. Three types of infections commonly cause vaginal inflammation: yeast, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomoniasis.

What does “creamy white discharge” mean?

There is a chance that it is caused by a yeast infection if other symptoms, such as itching, burning, and irritation accompany a thick, white discharge. Otherwise, it is a normal discharge. Also, you may notice that your discharge is thick and white just before and after your period.

Why do I have so much watery discharge?

Hormonal changes are to blame. You shouldn’t worry about infection if your discharge is watery. During your cycle, you might experience a clear, watery discharge. Fluid production can be stimulated by estrogen.

Why am I so wet in my pants?

Your cervical fluid becomes more watery as your estrogen level increases. Your underwear will feel the wettest when your estrogen levels are at their highest. A clear, slippery fluid will result. You are most fertile during this time if you are trying to conceive.

How does a healthy discharge look?

A clear, milky white, or off-white discharge indicates a healthy vaginal discharge. An infection or other issue may be characterized by dark yellow, brown, green, or gray discharge. There may be an odor of vaginal discharge, but it should not be strong or unpleasant.

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