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Vaginal Discharge: What’s normal and what is not?

Vaginal discharge is seen as a normal cleansing process in the female reproductive system. It is a common phenomenon among girls and women. This discharge is in form of fluid or mucus from the vaginal and the cervix glands. It helps in keeping the area clean and moist, washes away the dead cells and bacteria, and prevents infection.

What is a normal vaginal discharge?

Normal vaginal discharge varies in amount depending on the time in your menstrual cycle. It varies from body to body. It could be clear or milky white in colour, it is thick, sticky and slippery, and might have some odour. In most women, this is normal. During ovulating, pregnant, breastfeeding, using birth control or sexually aroused, there is a slight increase in discharge. It may smell different when a woman is pregnant or when she is not paying heed to personal hygiene. However, none of these changes are a cause for concern. Vaginal discharge is a natural process and has no link with age.

Discharge amount may vary at times. Immediately, after periods, there is almost no discharge. A couple of days after the period ends, there is a thick, white discharge. A few days later, the consistency changes to appear more like mucous. Before ovulation, the discharge becomes clear and sticky. Before the next menstrual cycle, discharge is thick and white in consistency. During pregnancy, the discharge is thin, white, milky and has a mild odour. The amount of discharge also increases during pregnancy. During perimenopause and menopause, the discharge decreases due to low estrogen levels.

What is abnormal vaginal discharge?

A change in the colour, smell, or consistency especially if it is accompanied by vaginal itching or vaginal burning, could be indicative of an infection or any other underlying condition. The change in the nature of discharge could be because of change in the balance of the vaginal bacteria. The things that can upset that balance:

  • Antibiotic or steroid use
  • Bacterial vaginosis, a bacterial infection more common in pregnant women or women who have multiple sexual partners
  • Yeast infection
  • Birth control pills
  • Cervical cancer
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Diabetes
  • Douches, scented soaps or lotions, bubble bath
  • Pelvic infection after surgery
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Trichomoniasis, a parasitic infection typically contracted and caused by having unprotected sex
  • Vaginal atrophy, the thinning and drying out of the vaginal walls during menopause
  • Vaginitis, irritation in or around the vagina

Types of Abnormal Discharge

Type of Discharge
It Could Be…
Other Symptoms
What You Can Do
Milky or white. Odourless Normal discharge None This is normal
Thick, white, and may resemble cottage cheese Yeast infection Vaginal itching, burning, soreness, or pain. Some women experience pain when urinating or having sex along with and redness, swelling or rash around the vulva Consult your gynaecologist
White, yellow or grey Bacterial vaginosis Fishy odour, itching and swelling Consult your gynaecologist
Yellow or green, thick or chunky Trichomoniasis or bacterial infection or sexually transmitted disease Foul odour Consult your gynaecologist
Brown or bloody Irregular menstruation or a sign of something more serious Pelvic pain or vaginal bleeding Consult your gynaecologist
Cloudy, yellow Gonorrhoea Pelvic pain Consult your gynaecologist

Yeast Infection Discharge: It is caused by an overgrowth of fungus in the vagina. Symptoms of yeast infection discharge include a thick, white, cottage cheese-like discharge, along with itching, redness, irritation and burning. Almost 90 percent of women will have a yeast infection at some point in their life. Yeast infections are not contagious, and over-the-counter antifungal creams are available for a patient to use. But, if symptoms don’t improve with treatment or you get these infections repeatedly, please consult a gynaecologist

When to consult a gynaecologist?

In case of the following, please consult your gynaecologist:

  • Change in colour, smell or texture
  • More than usual quantity of discharge
  • Itching and soreness in the vaginal area
  • Bleeding between periods or after sex
  • Pain while urinating
  • Pelvic pain

Yeast Infection Discharge: Yeast infection discharge is caused by an increase of fungus in the vagina. Symptoms of yeast infection discharge include a thick, white, cottage cheese-like discharge, along with itching, redness, irritation, and burning. Almost 90 percent of women will have a yeast infection at some point in their life. Yeast infections are not contagious, and over-the-counter antifungal creams are available for a patient to use. But, if symptoms don’t improve with treatment or you get these infections repeatedly, please consult a gynaecologist.

By Dr. Astha Dayal, Consultant, Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

 
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