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Vaginal Discharge: What’s Normal and What’s Not

Vaginal discharge is perfectly normal and it is considered as healthy because it serves an important housekeeping function. The glands inside the cervix and vagina produce a fluid that carries away dead cells and microorganisms from the female reproductive system. This helps in keeping your vagina clean and preventing infection.

The odor, color, amount, and consistency of a perfectly normal vaginal discharge can vary from clear to milky white – based on the time between your periods. For instance, when a woman is sexually aroused the discharge will be more. Similar is the case with ovulating and breastfeeding women. However, the smell, consistency, color, and odor of the discharge may change if you do not pay attention to personal hygiene.

What causes abnormal Discharge?

The normal microbial flora of the vagina helps in keeping it healthy, but when this normal balance alters, then the color, smell, and texture of the vaginal discharge changes. The following things can alter this normal balance:

  • Excessive use of steroids, hormones, and antibiotics
  • Bacterial infections such as vaginosis
  • Gonorrhea or Chlamydia (STDs) and other sexually transmitted infections
  • Yeast infections
  • Vaginitis is irritation in or around the vagina
  • Parasitic infections such as Trichomoniasis
  • Pregnancy
  • Use of birth control pills
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
  • Use of perfumed lotions, soaps
  • Douching
  • Cervical cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Pelvic infection after surgery

What are the non-infectious causes of your vaginal discharge?

A chemical reaction is due to the use of an object or chemical. For instance, the use of certain soaps, condoms, sexual lubricants, detergent-based products, or any object such as a sex toy can cause rash or irritation, and allergic reactions.

Use of tampons or menstrual cups.

Menopause – during menopause the levels of estrogen decrease and lead to shrinkage and thinning of vaginal walls – which become dry and thinner than normal. This condition is known as atrophic vaginitis.

Based on the type of the cause your gynecologist may recommend different treatment options.

The following information highlights the types of abnormal discharge and the possible causes and symptoms associated with it:

1.White, yellow, or gray with a fishy odor: It can be due to bacterial vaginosis

Symptoms: Burning or itching sensation, swelling, and redness in and around the vulva and vagina.

2.Thick, White, and Cheesy discharge: It can be due to yeast infections.

Symptoms: Itching, pain, and swelling in and around the vulva and painful sexual intercourse.

3.Yellow, frothy, and greenish with a bad smell: It might mean Trichomoniasis

Symptoms: burning sensation, pain, itching during urination

4.Yellow or Cloudy discharge: It might mean Gonorrhea.

Symptoms: Pelvic pain, urinary incontinence, bleeding between periods

5.Brown or bloody: It might mean irregular menses or problems with the cervical and endometrial tissues or less often cervical or endometrial cancer.

Symptoms: pelvic pain and abnormal vaginal bleeding

How does a gynecologist diagnose abnormal vaginal discharge?

The gynecologist takes into account your medical history and symptoms and then performs a physical and clinical examination. She may ask you a few of the following questions?

For how long have you been experiencing this problem?

Is there any smell associated with it?

What is the color of your discharge?

Do you have pain, burning, or itching sensation around the vagina?

Do you douche?

How is your sexual life?

Do you have any other health issues – for instance – diabetes?

What other symptoms do you have?

Your gynecologist will do a Pap test to collect a sample of the cervix for further examination.

What is the treatment for a vaginal discharge?

Abnormal vaginal discharge treatment depends on the underlying cause. For instance, if your gynecologist identifies the cause as bacterial vaginosis, then the treatment will be antibiotics tablets or creams. Antifungal medications are used to treat yeast infections. Topical applications in the form of gel or creams are used. Antiparasitic drugs are used to treat Parasitic vaginal infections such as trichomoniasis.

Can you prevent vaginal infections leading to abnormal discharge?

Yes, you can prevent vaginal infections that lead to abnormal discharge by following the below measures:

Do not use harsh soaps – instead, use a mild and gentle soap to keep your genital area clean.

Avoid feminine sprays, perfumes, scented soaps, or any other feminine products. Do not douche and avoid bubble baths.

Avoid excessively tight clothing and prefer 100% pure cotton undergarments.

Bottom Line

Vaginal discharge is normal most of the time. Consult a gynecologist if you notice a different smell and changes in color with itching or burning sensation. If you notice these symptoms, then there could be a possibility of an infection or other condition.

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