HomeGynaecology CareVaginal Discharge: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Vaginal Discharge: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Overview

Vaginal discharge is a common occurrence. Vaginal discharge can be caused due to hormonal; changes, infections etc. Various treatments and home remedies are available to cure vaginal discharge problems.

About Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge is a fluid secreted by vaginal cells. It can be a normal physiological phenomenon or a sign of bacterial/viral infection. There are numerous different types of vaginal discharge and these types are categorised based on their consistency and colour. A few types of vaginal discharges are normal, while thees may indicate an underlying condition that requires treatment.

What are the Symptoms and Causes of Vaginal Discharge?

Vaginal discharge is normal. The vaginal walls and the uterine cervix contain glands that create a small volume of liquid that helps keep the vagina moist. This liquid is usually thin, transparent, and smooth white and has no bad odour.

The discharge is more copious on specific days of the cycle (during ovulation), during breastfeeding, or due to sexual stimulation. This ebb and flow in the quantum and consistency of the vaginal discharge is typical and is not linked to any symptoms of vaginal infection.

The following are clinical symptoms of abnormal vaginal discharge.

  • An increase in vaginal discharge
  • An odd odour or consistency to the discharge
  • A discharge accompanied by pain, prickling, or burning sensations

Causes of Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge is a symptom of a healthy female body. It is the way your body cleans and maintains your vagina. For example, it is typical for discharge to increase with sexual excitement and ovulation. Exercise, the use of contraceptive pills, and mental stress can also lead to increased vaginal discharge. However, an unusual vaginal discharge is usually caused by an infection.

Types of Abnormal Discharge and Possible Causes

Type of DischargeWhat It Might MeanOther Symptoms
Brown or bloodyIrregular or less menstrual cycles often, endometrial or cervical cancerPelvic pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding
Yellow or cloudyGonorrheaUrinary incontinence, pelvic pain, bleeding between periods 
Greenish, frothy or yellow  with a bad smellTrichomoniasisItching and pain while urinating
PinkLochia (shedding of uterine lining after childbirth) 
Thick, cheesy, whiteYeast infectionPain and swelling around the vulva,  painful, itching, sexual intercourse
Yellow, white, or gray, with fishy odorBacterial vaginosisBurning or itching, swelling and redness of the vagina or vulva

Causes of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

Any changes in the balance of normal bacteria of the vagina can affect the colour, smell, or discharge texture. These are some things that can upset the balance:

  • Birth control pills
  • Cervical cancer
  • Steriod or antibiotic use
  • Diabetes
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Yeast infections
  • Sexually transmitted infections, gonorrhea or chlamydia  (STDs)
  • Scented lotions or soaps, douches, bubble bath
  • Pelvic infection post surgery
  • Vaginitis, irritation in or around the vagina
  • Vaginal atrophy (thinning and drying out of vaginal walls during menopause)
  • Trichomoniasis (a parasitic infection contracted and caused typically by having unprotected sex)
  • Bacterial vaginosis (a bacterial infection common in pregnant women or women who have sex with multiple partners)

Given below are some more details of various vaginal infections:

Candida or Yeast infection

Candida is a type of yeast that usually lives in small amounts in your skin or mouth without causing any problems. However, when it’s the right environment, the yeast can multiply and grow out of control.

The infection it causes is called candidiasis.

The symptoms include:

  • Swelling & redness of the vulva and vagina (the outer part of the female genitals)
  • Extreme itchiness in the vagina
  • Pain & burning when you pee
  • Discomfort during sex
  • A thick, white ‘cottage cheese’ discharge from the vagina

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is an extremely common bacterial infection. Women with BV, about half of the time, have no symptoms. However, they can include:

  • Burning feeling when you pee
  • Fishy smell that gets stronger after sex
  • Itching
  • Thin white, gray, or green discharge

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is caused by a protrozoan organism called Trichomonas vaginalis. The infection is typically transmitted by sexual contact but can also be contracted by exchanging towels or swimming outfits. The vaginal discharge is yellow or green with a foul smell. Pain, prickling, or burning sensations are common, although some women may not experience these symptoms.

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea

Gonorrhoea and chlamydia are STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) that can lead to abnormal discharge. The vaginal discharge is often yellow, greenish, or cloudy.

Pelvic Inflammatory disease (PID)

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is an infection of women’s organs of the reproductive system. They include the fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus and cervix. It is usually caused by an STI (sexually transmitted infection), like gonorrhoea or chlamydia.

Pelvic inflammatory disease can cause a substantial amount of vaginal discharge with a very pungent odour.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) or Cervical Cancer

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is transmitted by sexual contact. It can cause cervical carcinoma. Although there may be no symptoms, this kind of malignancy may produce a grey, earthy, or watery discharge with an unpleasant odour.

When Should You See a Doctor

Please contact your doctor immediately if you have any of the above symptoms along with vaginal discharge. The symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • An unexplained decline in weight          
  • Constantly feeling fatigued
  • Urinating  more frequently than usual

If you are worried that your vaginal discharge is a sign of an infection, see your doctor as soon as possible.

How can you prevent vaginal discharge?

Here are a few suggestions for the prevention of vaginal diseases:

  • Keep your genital area clean by washing it with a delicate, gentle cleanser and warm water. It is advisable not to use cleaning agents inside the vagina as it can disturb the pH balance of the vagina.
  • Never use perfumed cleaners or a douche. Also, stay away from scented spray and bubble baths to avoid vaginal infections.
  • After bowel movements or urination, consistently wipe from the front to the back to prevent microscopic organisms from entering the vagina and causing disease. 
  • Wear 100% cotton undergarments and avoid extremely tight clothes.

Remedies

Practice cleanliness to prevent contamination by unwanted microbes and wear breathable cotton undergarments. Avoid using douches, as they can aggravate vaginal discharge by cleaning out helpful microbes. Additionally, practice safe sex and use protection to prevent STIs.

To reduce the chances of yeast contamination when taking antibiotic medications, eat yogurt that contains live and diverse yeast cultures.

What is the Treatment for Vaginal Discharge?

The type of treatment will depend on the cause of the discharge. For instance, yeast infections are treated with antifungal medicines applied on the infected area in a cream or gel form. Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics or creams. Trichomoniasis is treated with the medications such as metronidazole or tinidazole.

Conclusion

Vaginal discharge is a common condition and treatable. The colour, odour and consistency of the discharge play an important role in diagnosing vaginal infection. Maintaining basic vaginal hygiene will help keep infections at bay. An annual appointment with your gynaecologist is also recommended to avoid any serious disease.

Frequently asked questions

Is vaginal discharge a sign of a sexually transmitted infection?

No, it is not always a sign of an infection. Vaginal discharge is normal unless it has a strong odour and/or has variable consistency and colour.

Is vaginal discharge normal?

Yes, the discharge serves a few purposes, including cleaning and moisturising the vagina and helping fight diseases as well as helping in the movement of sperm during a woman’s fertile period during ovulation. It is also normal for the colour and consistency of the vaginal discharge to change as you near your menstrual date.

What causes changes in the vaginal discharge?

The changes in vaginal discharge can be caused due to hormones, yeast infections, bacterial infections, or STDs such as gonorrhoea.

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