Vaginal discharge is a natural fluid that aids in maintaining vaginal cleanliness and preventing infections. However, its appearance, volume, and texture may vary depending on your age and menstrual cycle phase.
Nevertheless, certain alterations in discharge may indicate an underlying medical condition, informs Healthline. Examples include noticeable changes in colour, smell, or consistency.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to vaginal discharge, covering its types, causes, and when it’s advisable to seek medical attention.
Understanding vaginal discharge
Despite its unpleasant appearance or odour, vaginal discharge is a normal bodily function. It typically consists of a clear, white, or off-white fluid that is released from the vagina and is composed of healthy bacteria and cells from the uterus, cervix, and vagina. This discharge helps to keep the reproductive system clean and lubricated while also defending against bacterial infections, The Times of India explains.
It’s essential to understand that vaginal discharge is a natural and normal process and should not cause undue concern.
What is normal vaginal discharge?
Cleveland Clinic explains that a typical vaginal discharge has a clear or white colour and can have a consistency ranging from watery and sticky to thick and pasty.
It’s also reportedly common for the discharge to be either clear, milky white, or off-white in colour. However, if you notice a discharge that appears dark yellow, brown, green, or grey, it’s essential to seek medical attention to determine if an infection or other issue is present.
Mild odour in vaginal discharge is supposedly normal, but a strong and unpleasant smell may indicate a concerning issue. Also, while the amount of discharge can vary from person to person, any sudden and significant changes in the volume may indicate something else that requires attention.
Detecting abnormal discharge
When it comes to identifying abnormal vaginal discharge, the following are crucial things to take note of:
• A significant increase in the quantity of vaginal discharge
• Alterations in the colour of the discharge
• A foul-smelling and unpleasant ‘fishy’ odour
• Changes in the texture or consistency of the discharge
• Vaginal irritation, inflammation, itching, or pain
An abnormal vaginal discharge can have multiple underlying causes. Typically, an imbalance in the normal bacteria may lead to a substantial amount of discharge accompanied by foul-smelling or discoloured discharge. The following factors may contribute to such changes:
• Use of antibiotics or steroids
• Birth control pills
• Use of scented soaps or lotions
• Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
• Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
• Yeast infection or urinary tract infection
Link between the menstrual cycle and discharge
Medical News Today (MNT) states that the colour, quantity, and consistency of vaginal discharge can vary from one day to the next, and may be influenced by your menstrual cycle.
At the start of your cycle, you may experience red or bloody discharge as the body sheds the uterine lining.
However, after menstruation, the amount of discharge may decrease as the egg begins to mature, and cervical mucus may become cloudy and white or yellow with a sticky texture.
Additionally, in the lead-up to ovulation, the discharge tends to be thin and slippery and may be cloudy, white, or yellow, and possibly sticky or tacky. As the menstrual cycle nears its end, the cervical mucus will reportedly typically lighten and the amount of vaginal discharge may decrease.
STIs and vaginal discharge
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that can be transmitted through sexual activity from one person to another.
In addition to the variety of symptoms that can occur, abnormal vaginal discharge can also be a clear indicator of an STI.
An STI discharge may have a chunky texture and appear white, green, yellow, or even bloody in colour.
The odour may be unpleasant and fishy, and there may also be pain and discomfort while urinating or during intercourse. If any of these symptoms are present, it is essential to seek medical attention.
When to see a doctor
If a person notices any unusual smell or appearance in their vaginal discharge, it is recommended to see a doctor.
Seeking medical care is also essential if any of the following vaginal symptoms occur: itching, pain or discomfort, discharge that appears frothy or like cottage cheese, bleeding between periods or after menopause, spotting after sex on a regular basis, grey, green, or yellow discharge, a strong odour, or a burning sensation during urination.
A doctor will typically perform a pelvic exam and may need to take a sample of discharge for further testing.
Unusual changes in vaginal discharge or other symptoms that may indicate a reproductive health issue are often caused by infections or hormonal imbalances, MNT informs.
In such cases, medication may be necessary. It is also essential to see a doctor if irregular changes in vaginal discharge are noticed or if a person experiences other symptoms that may suggest a reproductive health issue.