Vaginal Discharge – Types, Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Treatments, Preventions

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

What is Vaginal Discharge?

A healthy vagina has an acidic environment that prevent unhealthy bacteria from thriving. In addition, a healthy vagina produces secretions to cleanse itself and regulate its environment. These secretions are considered normal and healthy and are often compared to how saliva is secreted in the mouth to cleanse it and maintain a moist and healthy environment. Every woman has vaginal secretions. This is called vaginal discharge. Normal vaginal discharge is clear, cloudy white or yellowish in color.

What are the Different Types of Vaginal Discharge?

Vaginal discharge is primarily secreted to cleanse the vagina thereby making it a self-cleansing system. Vaginal discharge is also a good indicator of the various phases in the woman’s menstrual cycle. Therefore, vaginal discharge can be diverse in appearance, consistency and purpose. These are the different types of vaginal discharge:

  • Normal vaginal discharge that is secreted every other day to cleanse the vaginal tract from within. This discharge is whitish, clear or yellowish. The consistency varies from woman to woman though it is normally thin
  • Cyclic vaginal discharge that occurs at the beginning and end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. This is thicker than normal vaginal discharge, whitish and odorless.
  • Ovulation vaginal discharge which is secreted when a woman is ovulating. This discharge is normally clear and cloudy
  • Pregnancy vaginal discharge which is clear and is usually as a result of leaking of amniotic fluid. This kind of discharge is an indicator that the fetal membranes have ruptured
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge to indicate a bacterial or sexually transmitted infection. This kind is brown or greenish with a foul odor
  • What Causes Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?

    Abnormal vaginal discharge is any kind of vaginal discharge that is different from the normal day to day vaginal secretions. These differences are mostly in terms of amount, texture, color and odor. The following are causes of abnormal vaginal discharge:

    • Emotional stress can lead to negative changes in vaginal discharge such as making it flaky
    • The nutritional status of a woman can also lead to abnormal vaginal discharge by disrupting normal bodily and sexual health functions
    • Usage of certain medication, especially birth control pills can lead to abnormal vaginal discharge
    • Sexual arousal or excitement also leads to abnormal vaginal discharge by making vaginal secretions runnier. This is important for lubrication in order to avoid injury of the vaginal tract during sexual intercourse
    • Pregnancy can cause abnormal vaginal discharge as a result of hormonal changes or the rupturing of fetal membranes
    • Ovulation leads to changes in vaginal discharge as the body of a woman prepares for fertilization. Vaginal discharge during ovulation is atypical as it is cloudier
    • Infections of the vaginal tract disrupt the vaginal environment by altering the normal ph. This leads to abnormal vaginal discharge

    What are the Signs and Symptoms if Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?

    • Increased amount of discharge
    • Burning sensation during urination
    • Vaginal discharge with a foul odor
    • Greyish, yellowish or greenish vaginal discharge
    • Vaginal discharge with a clumpy cottage cheese like appearance
    • Inflammation of the vulva or vaginal
    • Itchiness and soreness in the vaginal area

    Why do Women Get Vaginal Infections?

    Abnormal vaginal discharge is more often than not a sign that a woman has a vaginal infection. The exact cause of vaginal infections is not known. Nonetheless, the following reasons make a woman more prone to getting vaginal infections:

    • Having multiple sexual partners
    • Having unprotected sex
    • Poor feminine hygiene
    • Excessive intake of sugar
    • Taking antibiotics
    • Using birth control pills
    • An impaired immunity system due to HIV infection

    Treatment for Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

    Abnormal discharge cannot be treated directly. What can be treated are the underlying vaginal infections which cause abnormal vaginal discharge. Once you observe that your vaginal discharge is atypical, a visit to the gynecologist is called for. Several tests will be carried out as follows:

    • Blood tests to rule out STIs
    • A pap smear
    • Tests on cultures present in the cervix
    • Tests for pH. changes

    Once the problem has been determined, treatment will be prescribed in terms of:

    • Antibiotics
    • Topical creams
    • Your partner may also need treatment

    Prognosis for Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

    Abnormal vaginal discharge is not life-threatening and can be treated. It often indicates vaginal infections such as:

    • Bacterial Vaginosis
    • Yeast infection
    • STIs

    Prevention

    • Avoid douching
    • Ensure the vaginal area is always clean and dry
    • Wear cotton underwear
    • Avoid using scented soaps and other scented feminine hygiene products
    • Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating the right foods and exercising regularly
    • Use condoms if you have multiple sexual partners
    • Wipe from front to back during bowel movement
    • Get proper medication for any kind of vaginal or sexual infection and use the medication for the entire stipulated time as per the doctor’s instructions
    • Increase* your yoghurt intake
    • Keep your blood sugar levels under control
    • Learn how to manage stress
    • Visit a gynecologist regularly for routine checkups

    Conclusion

    Vaginal discharge is nothing to be embarrassed about as it one of the most sophisticated self-cleansing methods in the human body. However, abnormal vaginal discharge can occur if the acidic vaginal environment is disrupted. Therefore, take good care of your body and know when to see a doctor by taking note of any negative changes that may occur.

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    Author

    Expert Author : Mark Simms (Consumer Health Digest)

    Mark Simms is a prolific freelance health and beauty writer, independent researcher with a long history and expertise of providing reliable and relatable health content for magazines, newsletters, websites including blogs and journals. He also enjoy exploring men’s and women’s health category writing articles about sex and relationships, product review and providing information on sexual health.