Vaginal discharge is made of the fluids secreted by the cervical and vaginal glands. The fluid has bacteria and dead cells, which it carries out of the human body. This discharge helps in keeping the vagina clean, and it helps in preventing infections. Normal vaginal discharges can vary in color and amount. Vaginal discharge is common in women, and sometimes it may raise questions. It may have an odor, but if its fishy, foul odor, then it is an indicator of an infection.

The amount of discharge can vary depending on the time of the month. In the time immediately after a period, there is no discharge. But after 2-3 days, there can be a white, thick discharge. Then a few days later, there can be a thick mucus-like discharge. The discharge is sticky and clear before ovulation, and just before the next period, it is white and thick. 

Women can find vaginal discharge during pregnancy, as well. The amount increases, and it is white, milky, thin, and mild smelling inconsistency. This discharge reduces during menopause and perimenopause because of reduced levels of estrogen. However, because the discharge is affected by estrogen, a drop in it can change the consistency and amount of discharge. These changes can occur due to other reasons, as well. They are:

  • Surgical removal of ovaries
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormones or medicines for treating fibroids, infertility, endometriosis, and breast cancer.
  • Radiation in the pelvic region
  • Depression, intense exercise or severe stress.

What is normal Vaginal Discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a normal occurrence, and it varies throughout the menstrual cycle. Women can tell the phase of the cycle by studying eth discharge. An abnormal discharge varies from a normal one, and it can be a sign of infection, STI, or bacterial imbalance. The vagina has balanced levels of pH, moisture, and bacteria. This balance can be sensitive to changes within the body and outside triggers.

Vaginal fluids can be different when you are aroused and also during and after pregnancy. Tracking your vaginal fluids can help the doctor record your bodily changes and diagnose if there is any problem.

  • Color & consistency

The discharge varies according to the cervical fluid of the body. At the start of the menstrual cycle, the discharge is very sticky or very dry, or there may not be any discharge at all. In the mid or late follicular phase, it becomes whitish and creamy. But just before ovulation, it can become wet, stretchy, and transparent, having an egg-like consistency. After ovulation, it goes back to very sticky or very dry. It can look yellowish or white as it dries on the underwear.

  • Volume

Many women don’t notice the increase in discharge through the first phase of the cycle. The most discharge is produced during ovulation and the days preceding it. The volume of fluid decreases in one or two days posts ovulation, which lasts until the end of the menstrual cycle. The vagina does produce more fluids when women are in an aroused state.

  •  Smell

A normal discharge is usually odorless. Sometimes it can have a smell, but it isn’t unpleasant. It is very mild. If it mixes with urine or blood on the underwear during the period, then the smell changes. Owen must know what their normal discharge smells like, so they know when it changes.

Types of Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge can be of different types, and it varies depending on the menstrual cycles. There could be other reasons for the variance, such as treatments or physiological changes. The change can also point toward infections or some other diseases which is causing this.

  • White:

Discharge that is in different shades of the color white is normal, and it occurs during ovulation and at the end of the menstrual cycle. If a woman does not experience burning sensations, itching, or an odor when the discharge occurs, then there is nothing to worry about the white discharge. But if the discharge is stringy and clumpy like cheese, then it could be a sign of a yeast infection. It is usually accompanied by burning and itching and is due to an overgrowth of a fungus. If the white discharge has a fishy odor, then it probably means that the woman has bacterial vaginosis. The other symptoms of bacterial vaginosis are itching and burning sensation while passing urine.

  • Brown:

A bloody or brown discharge is normal if it occurs after or during the period. A late discharge towards the end of the menstrual cycle often is brown instead of red. Small amounts of brown or red discharge can be experienced in between cycles. It is commonly known as spotting. If a woman has had unprotected sex, then this is a sign of pregnancy. Spotting during early pregnancy stages can be a sign of miscarriage, as well. Women are advised to consult their doctor about this first. In extremely rare cases, red or brown discharge could be a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer. It could also occur due to abnormal growth of fibroids (refer to Q&A for more info on Fibroids).

  • Clear & Watery: A clear and watery discharge is quite normal and can occur at any time. It may be more after exercise.
  • Stretchy: If it’s clear and stretchy, mucus-like, then this is normal too. It just means you are ovulating.
  • Yellow: A yellow discharge is odorless, and the woman does not experience any other symptoms, then it isn’t anything to worry about. In some cases, it may be a sign of bacterial infection or sexually transmitted infections. (Find more about sexually transmitted infections through this Q&A)
  • Green: A green discharge, if it’s chunky or thick and has a bad odor, isn’t normal and could be a sign of an infection. The woman must get herself checked by a doctor.

Signs and Symptoms of Vaginal Discharge

The vaginal fluids might vary in color and consistency. This variance is dependant upon a lot of factors. The vaginal discharge may be a pointer to a more serious problem such as:

  • Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea may not cause all the symptoms. Still, in half the women frequent urination, burning during urination, swelling and redness of genitals, yellow vaginal discharge, and itching the vaginal area.

  • Trichomonas

This infection produces a greenish-yellow and frothy vaginal discharge, accompanied by a strong odor. A woman can feel discomfort during urination and intercourse, along with itching and irritation in the genital region.

  • Bacterial Vaginosis

All women with bacterial vaginosis don’t show the same symptoms. It usually produces a grayish-white and thin discharge. The discharge also has a fishy and foul smell.

  • Yeast infection

A yeast infection in the vagina is typically characterized by a white and thick vaginal discharge that feels like cottage cheese. It is odorless but can cause burning, pain, and soreness during intercourse or urination.

  • Chlamydia

This infection doesn’t apply symptoms in all women. But there is an increased amount of discharge along with the symptoms of a urinary tract infection.

Causes of Vaginal Discharge

A normal vaginal discharge is for the healthy functioning of the body. This is the way the vagina cleans itself and maintain the right environment. It is a mix of pH balance and hormones that need to be maintained. But in certain cases, the discharge isn’t normal. They are:

  • Trichomoniasis

A single-celled organism known as a protozoan is responsible for this infection Trichomoniasis. It spread through sexual contact and even by common towels and bathing suits. It causes a green or yellow discharge with a foul odor. Itching, inflammation, and pain are also common symptoms.

  • Bacterial vaginosis

 This infection increases vaginal discharge and has a strong fishy and foul odor. Women with multiple sexual partners and those who receive oral sex are at risk for it.

  • Yeast infection, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea

 A yeast infection causes a cheese-like discharge along with itching and burning. Diabetes, stress, pregnancy, birth control pills, and antibiotics can cause this. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are STI’s and can cause a green, yellow, or cloudy discharge.

The HPV infection happens because of sexual contact and can cause cervical cancer. Cancer produces a brown, bloody, or watery discharge with a bad odor. Pap smears and testing can screen this.

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

PID infection is also spread through sexual contact and produces a foul-smelling and heavy discharge.

Treatment of Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharges, if unhealthy, can be treated in the following ways:

  • OTC Medication

Medication that can be taken over the counter or prescription medicines help in managing abnormal vaginal discharge. For bacterial vaginosis, women can try tinidazole, metronidazole, or clindamycin cream. They are also good for trichomonas infections. Chlamydia can be treated with oral azithromycins, such as Zmax or Zithromax and doxycycline such as Oracea, Atridox, Vibramycin, etc.

Gonorrhea used to be treated with penicillin, but with newer resistant strains, they are difficult to treat. Try oral cefixime or inject ceftriaxone. Topical creams can treat yeast infections like miconazole, butoconazole, or clotrimazole. Some medication is also available in the form of vaginal tablets and oral options.

  • Home

Women can take over the counter medications for vaginal discharge, but they must first consult a healthcare professional to see if the discharge is abnormal in any way. Alternative medical approaches suggest douching, but most doctors don’t recommend it. These discharges are a natural way for the vagina to clean itself and maintain the right balance. Douching disturbs that balance and causes inflammation or worse symptoms. Women mustn’t douche unless specifically prescribed by a medical professional.

  • Healthy Hygiene

Vaginal discharges are quite common in women who use panty liners, douches Hygiene rinses, sprays or powders, scented bath products, or tight clothing. To avoid vaginal discharge, women must try to use unscented bath products of the genital area. Avoid hot water baths, douching, or scented wipes or toilet par. Wear cotton underwear to ensure there is proper air circulation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Vaginal Discharge

  • Is it normal to have vaginal discharge even when you are not having my period?

Vaginal discharge is completely normal at any time. Even when you are not having your period. The discharge keeps the vaginal canal clean and maintains the right “ecosystem” for reproductive health. The normal discharge is known as leukorrhea, which is white or clear and doesn’t have any odor. A woman’s body can normally produce a small amount (about a small teaspoon) of leukorrhea in a day. So, what can you do about Leukorrhea, here’s  Harvard Women’s Health Watch sharing insight on Leukorrhea

When eggs are released during ovulation, which is the middle of the menstrual cycle, the discharge may become stretchy and thinner like egg whites. Closer to the end of the cycle, when you are actually getting your period, the discharge may become stickier.

  • How to make the vagina less smelly?

The vagina may release odors, which may cause you to smell bad, which is normal. It is recommended that the consumption of fruits can help in reducing this odor. The vagina and the discharge may also smell due to other reasons such as infections, bacterial growth, hormones, or hygiene issues. Keep the area clean and watch out for symptoms of an infection.

  • What is the reason behind releasing a lot of vaginal discharge sometimes?

The level or amount of vaginal discharge depends on the menstrual cycle. If you have an unusually large amount of discharge, it could be because you are ovulating or are sexually aroused. Pregnant women may also face large amounts of discharge. If the discharge doesn’t cause itching or discomfort, then it isn’t anything to worry about. But you can still check with a medical professional.

Final Thoughts

Vaginal discharge in itself is nothing to be worried about. It can vary in amount, color, and looks. It is a perfectly normal part of a woman’s life and health. But women must learn to track what is normal and what isn’t. This is so that they can immediately inform a healthcare worker if the discharge feels or seems abnormal in any way.

Women also use vaginal discharge to predict their cycles. The natural method of birth control also depends on the discharge and its features to help women determine when they are most fertile.

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