Vaginal Discharge | Women’s Health | Things Women should know
Vaginal discharge is a normal part of being woman that you might not even think twice about it. Normally, vaginal discharge helps keep the vagina clean and healthy. But, often changing of the color, odor, and texture of the discharge can warn us about an underlying health condition. This article will talk about what vaginal discharge is, its role in keeping your body healthy, and when to get concerned about it.
What is Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge is a fluid produced in the uterus, cervix, and vaginal canal due to the natural changes in the body’s estrogen level. It comprises cells and bacteria and helps flush the vagina clean, keep it lubricated, fight against harmful bacteria, and protect it from infections.
What Should Normal Vaginal Discharge Be Like?
Vaginal discharge is a normal and natural process. The amount of discharge depends upon your age, menstrual cycle, ovulation, sexual arousal, pregnancy, and consumption of birth control pills. Typically, premenopausal women have 2 to 5 ml of white/clear, thick, mucus-like, and vaginal discharge daily. The amount and consistency of the discharge can vary from woman to woman and on the pH balance of the vagina. The thickness of the discharge also varies throughout the menstrual cycle in premenopausal women.
Vaginal Discharge Could be a Sign of an Infection
If you have a vaginal infection, you may notice changes in the color, texture, and odor of your vaginal discharge.
Color of Vaginal discharge
Yellow, gray, or green: Vaginal discharge having these colors might indicate bacterial or sexually transmitted infections.
Brown or red: Brown or red Vaginal discharge of such dark colors can occur if you have irregular menstruation. It can also happen during pregnancy.
Smell of Vaginal discharge
Infection of the vaginal canal, cervix, or uterus can cause fishy or foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
Texture of Vaginal discharge
Abnormal vaginal discharge can be watery, frothy, or thick and sticky.
- Watery: Bacterial vaginosis, HPV infection
- Frothy: Trichomoniasis
- Cottage-cheese-like: Yeast Infection
- Thick, smelly: Genital Herpes, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Types of Vaginal Disease and Treatment
Pelvic Organ Prolapse
A common symptom that women experience when they have pelvic organ prolapse is vaginal discharge that is blood stained and smelly. They might also notice an increase amount of vaginal discharge accompanied by vaginal bleeding due to the protruding organ.
There are different treatments for pelvic organ prolapse which includes surgery, pessaries and natural treatment options like FemiCushion. FemiCushion is recommended for over pessary use to relieve vaginal discharge due to POP as it is noninvasive meaning nothing is inserted into the body. Sometimes pessaries can irritate the prolapse as well as the lining of the vaginal walls causing more vaginal bleeding, discharge and increasing the risk of developing an infection.
It is a common bacterial infection often characterized by an increased amount of vaginal discharge with a strong, foul smell. The discharge may have a thin, watery consistency with gray color. However, sometimes, the condition might be asymptomatic as well. Having multiple sexual partners can be a risk factor, and you might develop bacterial vaginosis.
Antibiotic drugs usually treat Bacterial vaginosis. Your doctor may prescribe you medications such as:
- Metronidazole: either applied topically or taken orally
- Clindamycin: applied topically
- Tinidazole: taken orally
- Secnidazole: taken orally
Trichomoniasis is a parasitic infection usually spread by sexual contact or sharing towels or bathing suits. It is mostly asymptomatic. However, some people may experience symptoms like yellow or green, frothy vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor. Other symptoms also include pain, itching, and inflammation in the genital region.
Trichomoniasis is also treated easily with antibiotics. Typically, doctors prescribe oral metronidazole for this condition, which must be taken twice daily for 5-7 days.
Yeast infection can cause thick, white, itchy vaginal discharge with a cottage cheese appearance. One might also experience burning and soreness in the vaginal area.
Anti-fungal drugs are the best way to treat yeast infections. In most cases, doctors prescribe Miconazole and terconazole in the form of creams, ointments, or tablets to treat the conditions.
Gonorrhea and Chlamydia
These sexually transmitted infections can produce an abnormal vaginal discharge of yellow or green color. Other symptoms can include
- pain when urinating
- stomach pain
- bleeding after sexual intercourse
- bleeding between periods
Gonorrhea is treated using antibiotics like oral azithromycin or ceftriaxone injection. Medications like azithromycin and doxycycline also treat Chlamydia.
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease often characterized by strong smelling and thick, itchy vaginal discharge. Other symptoms include sores and blisters in the genital region and a burning sensation while urinating.
Genital herpes cannot be cured. However, your doctor will prescribe you medications to help relieve the symptoms and decrease their severity. Anti-viral medications like acyclovir, Famciclovir, and Valacyclovir can be helpful.
Pelvic Inflammatory Diseases
Pelvic inflammatory diseases (PID) can cause thick, foul-smelling vaginal discharge accompanied by pain in the abdomen, typically during menstruating or after sex. PID can happen due to untreated sexually transmitted diseases or bacterial infections. It is also treated with antibiotics. Your doctor will also ask you to observe temporary abstinence from sexual activities.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection can happen via sexual contact. It can be treated using common antiviral medications. HPV infection can also lead to cervical cancer. Symptoms for this condition are typically watery, bloody, or brownish vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor, urinary incontinence, and pain while urinating. Treatments for cervical cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
What to do and not to do to Help with Vaginal Discharge?
There is nothing to be concerned about with normal vaginal discharge. Here are some things you can follow in your daily life to prevent abnormal vaginal discharge:
- Wear underwear made of breathable fabric (e.g., cotton)
- Avoid wearing tight underwear, swimsuits, shorts, and pants for a long time.
- Consider changing your detergent and fabric softener if you find it irritable to your skin
- Wash your genitals properly after using the toilet and after sex.
- Avoid unnecessary feminine hygiene products.
Adding yogurt, garlic, and vinegar to your diet can help prevent abnormal vaginal discharge. Other natural remedies for vaginal discharge include coconut oil and tea tree oil, especially in case of yeast infection.
The Bottom Line:
It is completely natural to experience some clear or white, slimy vaginal discharge. However, changes in the color, texture, and smell of the vaginal discharge can indicate infection. You might need medical treatment for vaginal discharge due to bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, etc. We hope this article has helped you have a better understanding of vaginal discharge and when to get concerned about it.
Supervising Doctor of This Article
Koichi Nagao, MD PhD
Professor, Department of Urology, Toho University Faculty of Medicine
Director of Urinary tract reconstruction center, Toho University Omori Medical Center
Director of Reproduction Center, Toho University Omori Medical Center
Professor Nagao specializes in plastic surgery in the field of reproductive medicine. He completed eight years of plastic surgery training at Showa University before majoring in urology at Toho University. With his meticulous surgical techniques and careful examinations that combines urology and plastic surgery, Professor Nagao became a Board Certified Specialist with multiple associations including the Japanese Urological Association, the Japan Society for Reproductive Medicine, and the Japanese Society for Sexual Medicine.