Vaginal Discharge: Causes, Types, Diagnosis, And Treatment

vaginal discharge

Overall facts about vaginal discharge

Vaginal discharge is a fluid that usually comes out of the vagina and may appear clear or white in color. Its fluid is produced by glands inside the vagina and the cervix gets rid of dead cells and bacteria. This helps keep the vagina clean and free from infection. Vaginal discharge is common amongst women as some may experience discharge daily, while others may experience it occasionally.

You can deduce that there’s an infection if your discharge has an offensive smell, changes color, or gets heavier than usual.

Is it normal to experience vaginal discharge?

However, in a woman’s menstrual cycle the amount and consistency of vaginal discharge change at different intervals. Also, a woman can experience more discharge when she’s breastfeeding, ovulating, or sexually aroused. It shouldn’t cause alarm as discharges of pregnant women do smell differently and if you’ve not been practicing good personal hygiene.

Read Also: Ovulation: Best Way To Track Your Ovulation Cycle At Ease

You can experience increased vaginal discharge due to normal menstrual cycle changes, cancer (usually rare), or vaginal infection. If you discover your vaginal discharge is more than your usual amount of vaginal discharge, quickly visit your medical doctor for help.

Some women may develop vaginitis which includes discharge accompanied by itching or burning near the vagina. Vaginitis is due to the inflammation or irritation of the vagina. The following are the signs of vaginitis:

  • An offensive vaginal smell
  • Itching around the vagina
  • Redness around the opening of the vagina
  • Increased volume or frequency of discharge
  • Discharge appears green, gray, or yellow in color
  • Feelings of pains around the vaginal
vaginal discharge

Read Also: Dysmenorrhea: New Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment

Sometimes vaginal discharge can also be a symptom of PID (pelvic inflammatory disease). PID which is an infection that attacks women’s reproductive organs is due to the occurrence of some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). A woman experience symptoms ranging from moderate to intense pain and tenderness around the lower abdomen.

What are the causes of vaginitis?

Vaginitis can be caused when detergent, soaps, or chemicals in creams, liquids, bubble baths, sprays, or clothing comes in contact with the area around the vagina. These alter the pH or acidity of the vagina, leading to an overgrowth of small amounts of bacteria and yeast that are naturally found in the vagina. Its infection is also known as bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection.

Pregnant women or women with multiple sexual partners tend to develop bacterial vaginosis very easily. Other causes of abnormal vaginal discharges include excessive usage of birth control pills, steroid or antibiotic, diabetes, cervical cancer, and vaginal atrophy (it involves the thinning and drying of the vaginal walls during menopause.   

Consequently, vaginitis can be as a result of an infection. In some instances, the infection can arise from germs that are spread during sex, chlamydia, Gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and HIV are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that bring about vaginal discharge.

Read Also: Herpes Simplex: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And More

However, douching should be discouraged as it increases your chance of developing a pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and vaginal infections.

What are the types of abnormal vaginal discharge and their underlying causes?

Type of discharge Its description Other signs/symptoms
Yellow or cloudy Gonorrhea Bleeding during periods, pelvic pain, and urinary incontinence.
Brown or bloody Inconsistent menstrual cycles, or less often, endometrial or cervical cancer Experiencing abnormal pelvic pain and vaginal bleeding
Pink Wearing of the uterine lining after childbirth  
Frothy, yellow or greenish with an offensive smell. Trichomoniasis Feelings of pains or itching while urinating.
Gray, white, or yellow with a fishy smell Bacterial vaginosis Experiences burning or itching, redness and swelling of the vulva or vagina
Thick, white, cheesy Yeast infection is suspected Pain and swelling around the vulva, itching, painful sexual intercourse.

The following are the types of normal vaginal discharge:

Clear and watery discharge: This type of discharge is normal and it occurs at any time of the month. It may also appear heavy after exercise.

Clear and stretchy: A clear but stretchy and mucous-like discharge which isn’t watery, shows you’re definitely ovulating.

What tests are suitable for diagnosing abnormal vaginal discharge?

Consult your medical doctor if you experience unusual vaginal discharge for them to conduct tests to identify the problem. For optimal diagnosis, your doctor will begin by taking a health history and asking about any strange symptoms experienced. Questions may be in the following forms:

  • When did you start experiencing the abnormal discharge?
  • What is the color of the discharge?
  • Does it have an offensive smell?
  • Do you experience any pain, itching, or burning sensation in or around your vagina?
  • How many sexual partners do you have?
  • Do you engage in douching?

The healthcare provider may collect a sample of your discharge or do a Pap test to get cells from your cervix for further testing.

The following tests can help diagnose abnormal vaginal discharge effectively:

Undergoing pH test: Here your medical laboratory scientist checks the acid level of the discharge as infections can alter the pH or acidity of the vagina.

Pelvic examination: Your vagina and its cervix (the part of the uterus at the top of the vagina) will be assessed by your healthcare provider. The medical doctor will press on the uterus and ovaries to look for any abnormalities in the tissue and organs.

Testing for STDs: A sample of the discharge is collected from the vagina or cervix and sent to a lab to check for chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonas (the STD that causes trichomoniasis), or several organisms that may be causing the unusual vaginal discharge.

Read Also: Urinary Tract Infection: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

Use of wet mount: Here a sample of your discharge is collected and then viewed under the microscope to check for a bacterial, yeast, or trichomonas infection that may be causing the abnormal discharge.

How can I treat abnormal vaginal discharge?

However, you don’t need treatment for normal vaginal discharge. Although some women douche to get rid of discharge, using a douche isn’t a healthy idea. When you douche, the beneficial bacteria in the vagina are being washed away leading to other health issues. Without healthy bacteria, your vagina will be prone to several infections.

For effective treatment of unusual discharge, you have to know what is causing the problem. The following methods are effective in the treatment of unusual discharge:

Use of antibiotics: Vaginal infections are treated with antibiotic drugs to help kill bacteria or other drugs that kill the yeast. Yeast infections are best treated with antifungal drugs inserted into the vagina in gel or cream form. Trichomoniasis is mostly treated with medications such as metronidazole (Flagyl) or tinidazole (Tindamax).

Vaginitis associated with menopause can be treated with vaginal cream that may contain estrogen.

Go for treatment, you and your partner, if you have STD. Where medication is needed to treat an infection, make sure you finish all of the medication irrespective of any improvement experienced. Never indulge in lovemaking with your partner except you both have completed your treatment. You may go for another checkup after 2-3 months to be certain that the STD has been cured completely or to be sure you’ve not been infected again.

Vaginitis due to chemicals is treated by doing away with those products that may cause it. The following products can cause irritation of the vagina:

  • Use of feminine hygiene sprays
  • Sanitary pads or tampons that have deodorant
  • Colored or perfumed toilet paper
  • Body cream or lotion
  • Soap/body wash
  • Laundry detergent
  • Bubble bath
  • Fabric softener
How can I prevent abnormal discharge from occurring?

The following tips will help prevent vaginal infections that can lead to unusual discharge:

  • Maintain adequate personal hygiene like keeping the vagina clean by washing with a block of gentle, mild soap and warm water.
vaginal discharge
  • Always wipe from front to back after visiting the bathroom to prevent bacteria from getting into the vagina and causing severe infections.
  • Avoid douching, using scented soaps, or any feminine products. Never use feminine sprays and bubble baths.
  • Keep your toilet clean and wash at all times with Dettol. This helps prevent flies and other harmful microorganisms from breeding.
  • Always wear 100 percent cotton underpants, and avoid wearing excessively tight clothing.
  • Refrain from having multiple sexual partners and always use a female condom.
When can I see a doctor about abnormal vaginal discharge

You can visit your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following things:

  • Discharges looking green or yellow
  • Experiencing painful intercourse
  • Discover more discharge than it was before
  • Discharge having a strong or offensive smell
  • Feeling pains around the pelvic (lower belly) area
  • Experiencing pains or itching around the vagina


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