Vaginal discharge is produced by your uterus, cervix, and vagina. It helps lubricate your vagina, keep it clean and fight off bad bacteria and infection.
The vaginal discharge that comes out of your vagins is usually a clear or whitish fluid. It is a natural and normal process, but changes in the amount, consistency, colour, or smell could indicate an infection or other problem.
Women have varying amounts of vaginal discharge with some women producing more discharge than others. Certain factors such as pregnancy, using hormonal contraceptives or ovulation can affect the quantity of vaginal discharge you have.
What Is Normal Vaginal Discharge?
Normal vaginal discharge should be clear, white, or off-white. Its thickness is likely to change throughout your menstrual cycle but it should not smell offensive. Other characteristics of normal vaginal discharge include:
- Texture. Vaginal discharge can range from watery to sticky, thick and pasty. Hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle cause these changes to happen. If the consistency of your vaginal discharge becomes chunky, foamy or accompanied by itching and changes in colour, you may have an infection.
- Colour. Healthy vaginal discharge is clear, milky white or off-white. Dark yellow, brown, green or grey discharge may indicate an infection or other issue.
- Smell. Vaginal discharge may have a faint odour, but it should not be strong or smell bad. If your discharge has a fishy or unpleasant smell you may have a vaginal infection.
- Amount. It is normal for women to produce varying amounts of discharge throughout their menstrual cycle. However, if you suddenly start producing more discharge than normal it might signify that something is wrong.
Changes in vaginal discharge are not always caused by an infection. Non-infectious changes to your vaginal discharge can be caused by several factors, including:
- Changes in the normal balance of healthy bacteria in your vagina
- Sexual excitement
- A foreign object in the vagina such as a tampon that has been left in too long.
- An irritation or rash from an object or chemical that causes an allergic reaction. This could be from detergents, soaps, lubricants, or materials used in condoms or sex toys.
- Atrophic vaginitis is a condition that occurs in women after menopause that causes the walls of the vagina to become dry and thinner than normal.
- You produce more discharge during pregnancy as it helps protect you from infection.
- Your discharge may become very slippery and wet during ovulation (when your ovaries release an egg).
Brown or red discharge is usually related to irregularities in your menstrual cycle or pregnancy. If you have brown or red-tinged discharge and you are not menstruating, it may indicate a problem.
What Is Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?
Changes to your discharge can be a sign of infection or disease. Although not all changes in vaginal discharge signify that you have a vaginal infection, it is best to let your healthcare provider check. Unusual changes to your discharge may include:
- An increase in the amount of vaginal discharge
- A foul-smelling odour
- A change in the colour of the discharge
- A change in the texture or consistency of the discharge
- Irritation, itching or pain in or around your vagina
Vaginal Discharge Caused By Infections
Changes to the colour and texture of your vaginal discharge might signal an infection. If your discharge becomes yellow, grey or green discharge it may suggest a bacterial or sexually transmitted infection (STI). Discharge that is white but thicker than usual, and accompanied by tenderness or itching, may be a vaginal yeast infection.
Vaginal yeast infections are very common, affecting up to 3 out of 4 women at some point in their lifetimes. Vaginal yeast infections produce a thick, white, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge.
These unpleasant infections, also known as vaginal candidiasis or thrush, cause irritation, discharge and intense itchiness of the vagina and the vulva. There are several causes of yeast infection, the most common being antibiotic use, increased oestrogen levels, uncontrolled diabetes, and an impaired immune system.
Chlamydia And Gonorrhoea
Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are very common sexually transmitted infections. If you are infected with one of these STIs. If you have one of these infections your may experience vaginal discharge accompanied by pain or bleeding.
If you have a chlamydia infection, your vaginal discharge might have a strong odour and yellowish tint. If you have gonorrhoea, you may experience green, yellow, or white discharge.
Bacterial vaginosis is a type of vaginal inflammation caused by the overgrowth of bacteria naturally found in the vagina, which upsets the natural balance. It typically produces a thin, grey, white, or green vaginal discharge with a foul-smelling "fishy" odour.
Trichomoniasis is caused by a tiny parasite which is passed on during sexual contact. Symptoms include itching, burning, or sore genitals and a “fishy” discharge. This infection typically produces a green, yellow, or frothy (bubbly) discharge.
Genital herpes is usually caused by HSV-2 (Herpes Simplex Virus). The main symptom of herpes is painful blisters around the vagina or anus. You can also get blisters inside your vagina or anus. Vaginal discharge associated with herpes is usually a thick and clear, white, or cloudy fluid. This discharge usually occurs when you have an active infection with sores.