Do you remember the first time you saw your vaginal discharge? Did you freak out? What color was it? Who did you ask about it?
If you didn’t have that conversation with your mom or in sex ed class then you might have felt pretty weird and maybe even gross. But as time went on you should have realized that this is a natural, normal experience for females as they approach puberty.
The thing about vaginal discharge is that even though it happens to every woman, there aren’t enough conversations being had about it in terms of what is normal and what you should be concerned about. In this article, we will be covering everything you need to know about vaginal discharge, when you should be worried and what you can do to control it and keep yourself clean.
But before we get into the meat of the matter, let’s clarify what vaginal discharge is.
What is vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge is any fluid, aside from your period, that is expelled from the vagina. This fluid is made by special glands in the vagina whose job is to flush out dead skin cells and bacteria from the vagina. It also helps to keep it moist. Under healthy circumstances the discharge from your vagina contains:
- Good Bacteria
- Mucus from your cervix
- Fluid from your uterus
- Vulvular secretions, oil and sweat
- Old cells from you vagina wall
Vaginal discharge can come in a variety of colors which are used to indicate the health of the vagina. The amount, consistency and smell of vaginal discharge also vary throughout your cycle. For some women, they will experience discharge every day. Others only experience discharge occasionally.
Normal Vaginal Discharge
Normal vaginal discharge is usually clear to a milky white. However, the amount and color vary from woman to woman and at certain times of the month. Therefore, you should get to know what your discharge own.
At the least fertile parts of your cycle, discharge is typically dry and sticky. Before ovulation, it becomes wet or creamy. During ovulation, it becomes very stretchy, like a raw egg white.
When a woman is sexually aroused, discharge is usually clear and stretchy, and the amount increases significantly. During pregnancy, discharge is called leukorrhea. It is thinner and can be clear or milky. The amount of discharge produced during this time also increases. Vaginal discharge can also increase during breastfeeding.
The odor of your vaginal discharge can also vary. After sex, discharge has a stronger smell but this is nothing to worry about because this is short-term.
Types of discharge
The types of discharges are categorized based on their color, smell and consistency. This is what will let you know if it is normal or not.
Like we said before, normal discharge is typically white. However, if it causes any kind of itchiness, or has a thick, cottage cheese-like consistency or a foul odor, then this might be a sign of infection.
Clear and watery/stretchy
Clear or watery discharge is normal, especially when aroused or during ovulation. During this time, the amount of discharge will be more than it typically is.
Brown or bloody
Brown or bloody discharge usually happens during mensuration. Brown discharge is just the old blood being removed from the vagina. If there is some bleeding or brown discharge between your period, this is called spotting and is usually nothing to worry about. Spotting can also happen if you just started taking the pill or any other contraceptive.
If bleeding is heavy or continuous, or if you have already been through menopause, then you should see a doctor because this could be an indication of something more serious, such as an STD or gynecological cancer.
If you have recently had unprotected sex, this can be an indication of early pregnancy. This is referred to as implantation bleeding.Pink discharge can also occur after sex or childbirth from small tears and cuts in the vagina or cervix. Some women also experience pink discharge during ovulation.
Yellow or green
Normal discharge can have a slight yellow hue, especially if you are on supplements.However, when discharge is a darker yellow, yellow-green or green, and accompanied by an unpleasant odor, this is typically a sign of infection and you should go see a doctor immediately.
Gray, thin watery discharge is abnormal and is a sign of infection. This type of discharge is usually accompanied by itching, irritation, and redness around the vulva. It can also have a strong odor.
Clear Jelly Fish like
Ovulation can cause discharge as well. So this can be a good indication for you to be cautious if you are not trying to pregnant or go all in (pon intended) if you are trying to get pregnant. Nonetheless, it nothing to work about. It is only your cervix producing extra mucous to prepare for any sperm that wants to enter.
Causes of abnormal vaginal discharge
Your vaginal discharge is abnormal when there is a difference in the color, odor, and texture of the discharge.Several factors and conditions can cause abnormal vaginal discharge. Here are a few.
There are two main infections which cause abnormal vaginal discharge, namely bacterial and fungal infections.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection which occurs when there is an imbalance in vaginal bacteria.
The vagina is home to a variety of bacteria, some good, some bad. Good bacteria are responsible for keeping the vagina acidic so that the bad bacteria cannot flourish. However, when the good bacteria levels become low, these bad bacteria can have some pretty uncomfortable effects on the vagina.
The cause of bacterial vaginosis has not yet been determined, however, it has been linked to cleaning practices such as douching and scented soaps which can kill off the bacteria living in the vagina. BV is also more likely to happen to women who have multiple sexual partners, or women who are in same-sex relationships. Birth control can also cause hormonal imbalance which can cause bacterial imbalance.
When this happens, discharge becomes thin, grey and watery and causes irritation and itching. It also has a strong fishy odor, especially after sex.
Treatment for yeast infection will no work for BV. Therefore it is advised that you visit a doctor who will prescribe a round of antibiotics and will perform tests to ensure that this type of discharge is not a sign of something more serious.
A yeast infection is a fungal infection caused by the overgrowth of the Candida fungus in the vagina. Even though this fungus occurs naturally, when the pH of the vagina changes, it can multiply leading to pain and discomfort during sex and urination, vaginal itchiness, and abnormal vaginal discharge.
Here, discharge is white or light yellow and has the consistency of cottage cheese-like. It can also be smelly.
Sexually transmitted infection (STI)
Several sexually transmitted infections can change the way your discharge looks and smell. Some of these include:
Trichomoniasis is an infection caused when the Trichomonas protozoan parasite gets transferred from one person to another during sexual intercourse. This STI can affect both men and woman and popular symptoms include genital irritation, discomfort during urination, painful sex, and of course, abnormal discharge.
When a woman contracts this infection, she will experience thin yellow or green discharge. It may also be grey or frothy and has an unpleasant odor.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia
These infections are transferred during unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex. While some women do not show symptoms, the telltale signs include a burning sensation when peeing, bleeding between periods and an increase in vaginal discharge. Discharge can be cloudy white, yellow or green, accompanied by a strong odor, and mucus and pus.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Human papillomavirus or (HPV) is a group of viruses that can affect both men and women. In women, this STI can irritate the vulva and vagina, genital warts, painful intercourse, and even cervical cancer.
As it related to discharge, HPV can cause a noticeable increase in discharge and can even give it a foul odor.
If you suspect you have a sexually transmitted infection, see a doctor immediately. When left untreated it can cause infertility, cancer, and even worse, death.
Certain diseases, caused by infections or otherwise can have a noticeable impact on vaginal discharge. Some of these include:
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease is caused by bacteria being spread to the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes. This can be caused by an untreated STI or sex. It can also happen after childbirth, an abortion or a miscarriage when the cervix is disturbed. Post any procedure such as an abortion or after giving birth, if you have sex before the recommended time then you are at risk for getting PID.
Pain in her lower abdomen, fever, burning sensations and unusual discharge with bad odor are common symptoms of PID.
Gynecological cancers are those which affect the ovaries, uterus, vagina, vulva, and cervix. While each cancer has its unique symptoms, one of the most obvious signs is a change in discharge. Gynecological cancers can pale, watery, pink, brown, bloody, foul-smelling and continuous discharge.
Proper hygiene is something that should be practiced by everyone, but when it comes to the vagina you don’t need to do much to keep it clean. The vagina is designed to keep itself clean through natural secretions, or discharge.
However, many people (maybe even you) are doing way too much and this can do more harm than good. The only part of your genitals that you should be concerned with cleaning is your vulva and between the labia majora. When you insert soap or any other substance into your vagina for cleaning, you can throw off the entire balance of your vagina which can cause an infection or abnormal discharge.
Other factors which can alter vaginal discharge include smoking, drinking alcohol, stress, antibiotics, birth control and hormone therapy.
Normal vaginal discharge needed no treatment as it is completely normal. Do not use a douche or any other cleaning implement to try to get rid of it. You can manage your discharge by wearing panty liners and by changing your underwear twice daily.
When you have abnormal vaginal discharge, the first thing you should do is contact your doctor. He/she will run a series of tests, such as pap smear exams, STD tests, pH test, wet mount, etc. to determine the cause of your vaginal discharge and come up with a treatment plan.
Do not try to treat these conditions on your own because there is a lot of incorrect information circulating on the internet that can do you more harm than good.
Vaginal discharge is not something to be afraid or ashamed of. It is your vagina’s way of letting you know that everything is okay down there. Also pay careful attention to the color, amount, consistence and smell of your discharge. This way you will not when something is really wrong down there.
If it so happens that your vaginal discharge becomes abnormal, see a doctor. He/she will know exactly what to do to return balance to your vagina.