Vaginal discharge refers to a whitish or clear fluid that comes out of your vagina. This discharge is a normal and natural process that serves an important housekeeping function in the women’s reproductive system. Certain glands inside your vagina and cervix form a fluid that carries bacteria and dead cells. Vaginal discharge keeps the vagina lubricated and helps avoid vaginal diseases and infections.
Usually, vaginal discharge begins 5-6 months before your first period starts in adolescence. It is a constant presence that tapers off after menopause. Some infections, pregnancy, menstrual cycle, and hormones may change the appearance and consistency of vaginal discharge.
Normal Vaginal Discharge
A certain amount of vaginal discharge with mild odor is completely normal. The color, odor, consistency, texture, and amount of vaginal discharge may vary from person to person based on the time in your menstrual period. For example, you can have more vaginal discharge when you’re sexually aroused, breastfeeding, or ovulating. Your vaginal discharge may have an unpleasant smell if you’re ignoring your hygiene or pregnant.
All the conditions mentioned above are normal, but if you notice frequent and sudden changes in the color, texture, and consistency of the discharge. In that case, you might be dealing with a vaginal disease or other infection.
In general, a healthy and normal vaginal discharge;
- might have a slight but not strong odor
- has a white, off-white, or clear color
- may leave a yellowish spot on your underwear
- might change its consistency according to your menstrual cycle
The fluid in your vagina, uterus, and cervix make up the vaginal discharge. During ovulation, women may experience thicker and more amount of vaginal discharge, which may indicate peak fertility times.
As women age, the estrogen level shifts, and the body is no longer ovulating. So, the women may experience vaginal dryness in their post-menopause, perimenopause, or menopause.
When to Talk to your Healthcare Provider?
In most cases, a temporary change in vaginal discharge is normal. You should talk to your healthcare provider if you notice the following changes in your vaginal discharge or symptoms around your vaginal area;
- A yellowish, grey, or green appearance of the vaginal discharge
- Change in the consistency
- A texture similar to cottage cheese
- Frothy and foamy appearance
- A strong, unpleasant, or fishy odor
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Blood-stained vaginal discharge
- Discomfort and pain when urinating
- Pain during the sexual intercourse
- Itching in the vaginal opening, labia, or vulva
Potential Causes of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
An abnormal vaginal discharge may signify that you have a vaginal disease or other infection. It may indicate several health problems, such as;
- Sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- Yeast infection
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Several factors may cause abnormal vaginal discharge, some of which are;
- A vaginal disease of infection
- A foreign object in your vagina( piece of toilet paper or forgotten tampon)
- Douching (cleaning the inside of your vagina)
- Use of birth control pills
- Intercourse with a person who has the parasite
Several surveys show that douching is the most common cause of the abnormal vaginal discharge. A survey reveals that one in 4 females in the U.S. aged between 15 and 40 douche, resulting in several STDs, infections, and fertility problems.
Physical Examination and Testing for Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Without testing and examination, you will be unable to know if the change in your vaginal discharge is normal. Don’t remediate the problem at home before proper testing and examination. Before testing and examination, your healthcare provider may ask certain questions, like;
- Do you use tampons, scented pads, douches, and other hygiene lubricants or products?
- Do you feel discomfort in your pelvis, back, or abdominal?
- Do you use medications like birth control pills?
After determining all the factors, your doctor examines the outer genital and internal vaginal area to diagnose the source of abnormal discharge. They take a sample of your vaginal discharge to check the acidity and pH levels.
After examination, your healthcare provider will recommend different treatments based on laboratory tests and physical examination. They can prescribe an antifungal medicine if you’ve got a vaginal infection like a yeast infection. They may ask you to use antibiotics to treat STDs and vaginal infections. There are also over-the-counter products available for yeast infection treatment.
The Bottom Line
A certain amount (2 to 5 mL) of vaginal discharge is normal in menstruating women. Clear, whitish, or off-white color with a slight odor is considered normal. If you feel a change in the appearance, color, consistency, and amount of the discharge, you must talk to a healthcare provider to avoid complications.