Is Vaginal Discharge Normal? When To See A Doctor If It Changes
Vaginal discharge: is it normal?
It's the question that has come to every woman's mind at some point: "Is vaginal discharge normal or is it a sign of a health issue? And how do you define normal?" As any health professional will tell you, vaginal discharge is perfectly normal, even healthy. It's usually clear or white, watery, and odorless (though it may have a slight but not unpleasant smell). It changes consistency throughout your menstrual cycle and you may notice some blood in it at the end of your period. Women who have entered menopause start to produce less discharge.
It's important to learn what's normal for you personally, so you'll know when to see a doctor if anything changes.
What qualifies as abnormal vaginal discharge?
It's normal for vaginal discharge to be more or less heavy on some days, or change color slightly (say, from clear to white-ish). But if you notice major changes in your discharge, and it's also accompanied by other symptoms, such as burning or itching, you should see your gynecologist.
Here are a few sings that the discharge is abnormal:
- it has a fishy or other unpleasant smell;
- it has changed color to green, yellow, or greyish;
- it has pink, brown, or red color (indicates the presence of blood) and that change doesn't coincide with the last days of your period or a few days after it;
- it has been abnormally thick for a long time;
- its texture resembles cottage cheese (a typical sign of a yeast infection).
See your doctor if the discharge is also accompanied by one or some of the following:
- pain or pressure in the pelvic area;
- itching and burning;
- painful urination;
- pain during intercourse;
- persistent fatigue;
- you are pregnant;
- unintended weight loss.
Possible causes of abnormal vaginal discharge.
Most causes of abnormal vaginal discharge are easy to identify and treat. Here are several possible causes of abnormal discharge:
Yeast infections occur when there's an overgrowth of Candida albicans, a type of fungi that are normally present in the vagina in smaller amounts. Women are more prone to yeast infections if they've been taking antibiotics for prolonged periods of time or when they are pregnant. Vaginal yeast infection usually produces white discharge that resembles cottage cheese and is also accompanied by itching and burning in the area.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is another common cause of abnormal discharge. Women who have multiple sexual partners or have recently started having unprotected sex with a new partner are at a higher risk of this type of infection. In women who have BV, the discharge has fishy odor and white, greyish, or yellowish color.
Trichomoniasis is an STI caused by a single-cell parasite called protozoan. It may manifest in yellow or green discharge with an unpleasant smell, pain, burning, and itching. However, some people who become infected with trichomoniasis don't get symptoms.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are two other STIs that can cause abnormal discharge. The discharge may look yellow, greenish, or cloudy, and there may be other symptoms, such as bleeding between periods and pelvic pain.
Rarely, abnormal discharge is caused by cancer of the cervix. Most women who get cervical cancer have been infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). Cervical cancer doesn't always produce symptoms, but if they are present, they may include bloody, brown, or clear discharge with an unpleasant smell. This type of cancer can be detected early with regular pelvic exams (annual) and Pap tests (done every 3 to 5 years).
Abnormal discharge is rarely caused by something serious. Most conditions that cause it can be treated quickly and effectively. If there are any changes in your discharge that concern you, schedule an appointment with your gynecologist.
This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.