Vaginal discharge is a completely natural phenomenon and vaginal discharge normally consists of clear watery fluid and mucus. This discharge is released through the walls of the vagina and cervix and occasionally some of it comes out. Vaginal discharge is also called ‘white discharge’. Vaginal discharge can sometimes smell slightly sour, but can also be odorless. When it dries, it turns a little yellow. Vaginal discharge changes under the influence of the monthly cycle, the pill, sexual arousal, pregnancy and menopause (the period around the last menstrual period). The color is not always white, but can also be yellowish or brownish. This often depends on the time of the month. The amount of vaginal discharge varies per woman: one woman produces relatively little discharge, while another produces a little more.
- Normal vaginal discharge
- Color and consistency
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Abnormal color, odor or consistency
- Mucus in the urine?
- Causes of brown, yellow, green and bloody discharge
- Causes of vaginal discharge
- Schematic overview of vaginal discharge
- White fence
- Clear and watery
- Clear and elastic
- Brown or bloody discharge
- Yellow discharge
- Green discharge
- Risk factors of abnormal vaginal discharge
- Disruption of the vaginal flora
- Vaginal douches, rinses, soap or deodorant
- Vaginal yeast infection
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Other infections
- Vaginal discharge alarm symptoms
- Examination and diagnosis
- Treatment of vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge / Source: Ruigsantos/Shutterstock.com
Normal vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge has an important function in the female reproductive system. The discharge released from the walls of the vagina and cervix carries away dead cells and harmful bacteria. It cleanses the vagina from the inside in a natural way and helps prevent infections. Vaginal fluid can differ in viscosity, color and odor. This is mainly related to the degree of sexual arousal, the period in the menstrual cycle, the use of the pill, pregnancy and menopause. But something like a changed diet can also cause the texture, color and odor of the vaginal discharge to change slightly.
Normal vaginal discharge may be odorless or have an odor. If your discharge has an odor, it has a mild, not unpleasant odor. The discharge may mix with some urine or blood around menstruation, giving it a different odor and being visible in your underwear. Getting to know your typical smell is very important to determine when something changes.
Color and consistency
At the beginning of the menstrual cycle, vaginal discharge is often more dry and sticky in nature. The discharge is creamy and whitish in the first phase of the menstrual cycle. Just before and around ovulation, the discharge is elastic, mucous-like, wet and transparent. Shortly after ovulation, the vaginal discharge usually changes back to dry and sticky. The discharge is white or slightly yellowish.
most people will notice that vaginal discharge increases during the first phase of their menstrual cycle, with most vaginal discharge present in the days before and during ovulation. The fluid volume then decreases in the first one to two days after ovulation and this normally continues until the end of the menstrual cycle.
You will also notice that your vagina produces more fluid when you become (sexually) aroused.
Abnormal vaginal discharge during pregnancy / Source: Zerocool, Pixabay
Abnormal vaginal discharge
Abnormal color, odor or consistency
A woman may experience complaints regarding her discharge. For example, the color, smell or consistency may differ from what is usual for hair. She may have more discharge than normal. The discharge may also be friable. The color may also differ and be green-yellow or snow-white, or she may notice some bloody discharge. Furthermore, the smell can be experienced as unusual or even foul. If the color, odor, or consistency differs significantly from what is usual, especially if it is accompanied by vaginal itching or burning, then there may be an infection or other condition. In most cases, you don’t have to worry about vaginal discharge. Different discharge than you are used to usually does not cause any harm. It almost always goes away on its own in one to three weeks.
Mucus in the urine?
Sometimes it seems that the somewhat thicker mucus from the vagina comes with the urine (mucus in the urine), while in fact it comes from the vagina.
Causes of brown, yellow, green and bloody discharge
Any disturbance of the vaginal flora caused by harmful bacteria or (overgrowth) of fungi affects the odor, color and texture of the discharge. Below are some causes that can disrupt this balance to a greater or lesser extent (temporarily), causing strange or abnormal vaginal discharge.
- The use of antibiotics;
- Bacterial vaginosis, a bacterial infection caused by a disturbance of acidity in the vagina, especially seen in pregnant women or women who have multiple sexual partners;
- The use of the pill;
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease / Source: Alila Medical Media/Shutterstock
- Cervical cancer;
- Trichomoniasis, chlamydia or gonorrhea or other sexually transmitted infections (STDs);
- Diabetes mellitus;
- As a result of using soap in the vagina, the number of fungi and bacteria can increase, causing inflammation;
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an inflammation of the pelvic organs (i.e. uterus, fallopian tubes, adjacent tissues and peritoneum);
- Fungal infections.
Causes of vaginal discharge
There are different types of vaginal discharge. These types are grouped according to their color and consistency. For example, vaginal discharge that is green, yellow or white in color, or bloody discharge or foamy (with air bubbles). Some types of vaginal discharge are normal, but others may be a sign of an underlying condition that needs to be treated. What the color means really depends on the situation. It is difficult to isolate color alone, because even white vaginal discharge can be abnormal. There is no way to diagnose it based on the color alone, but you should take into account certain factors such as your age, (sexual) behavior, menstrual cycle and other symptoms. In large corpses the colors can mean the following.
Schematic overview of vaginal discharge
See the chart below for more information about what a certain (abnormal) type of vaginal discharge could mean:
Type of vaginal discharge
What could this indicate?
Bloody or brown discharge.
Irregular menstrual cycle, or (less often) uterine inflammation, or (even less often) cervical cancer or uterine cancer. In addition to abnormal bleeding, cervical cancer can also cause pale, watery, pink, brown, bloody or foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain.
Cloudy or yellow vaginal discharge.
Increased or unusual vaginal discharge (a pus-like yellow-green or watery discharge from the urethra); a burning sensation when urinating; pain in your stomach; pain during sex.
Foamy, yellow or green vaginal discharge, with foam bubbles and a foul odor.
In addition to changes in vaginal discharge: pain, itching and inflamed vagina; pain when urinating; pain during sex. This pain is because the labia and lining of the vagina may be red, swollen and painful.
The shedding of the uterine lining after childbirth (puerperal fluid).
During the first few days after birth, the maternity flush consists largely of red blood cells (‘red maternity flush’). After about three days, the discharge takes on a whitish color due to the high number of white blood cells (‘white postpartum discharge’). After about a week the discharge becomes thin liquid (‘watery postpartum discharge’). The postpartum period can last about 4 to 6 weeks in total.
Thick, white, cheesy discharge.
Swelling and pain around the vulva, itching, painful intercourse.
White, gray or yellow discharge with fishy odor.
Itching or burning sensation, redness and swelling of the vagina or vulva.
White, gray or yellow vaginal discharge with fishy odor. (Sometimes also orange discharge.) Sometimes gas bubbles are visible in the discharge.
Itching or burning sensation, redness and swelling of the vagina or vulva. Sometimes you suffer from vaginal ‘winds’.
White vaginal discharge is not necessarily abnormal. A little white discharge, especially at the beginning or end of your menstrual cycle, is normal. If the discharge is followed by itching and if it has a thick consistency with a cottage cheese texture, it may mean there is a yeast infection. A milky white discharge can therefore be both normal and abnormal. In the latter case, the discharge is often accompanied by itching, a foul odor or pelvic pain. If there are any of these other symptoms, it could be a sign of bacterial vaginosis or an STD.
Clear and watery
Sometimes a woman may have a clear and watery discharge. This is completely normal and can happen at any time of the month. It can especially occur after intensive exercise.
Clear and elastic
If your discharge is clear and stretchy or looks like mucus instead of water, it may indicate that you are ovulating. This is a healthy and completely normal discharge.
Brown or bloody discharge
If a woman has brown discharge while she is menstruating or towards the end of your period; this may be normal. A late discharge at the end of your period may look brown instead of red. Irregular menstrual cycles can also be accompanied by brown vaginal discharge. Occasionally, a brown or bloody vaginal discharge indicates an early pregnancy or miscarriage. After menopause, a brown vaginal discharge color can sometimes indicate cancer of the female reproductive organs. In rare cases, brown or bloody discharge is a signal of advanced cervical cancer.
Yellow vaginal discharge can also be normal, but could also potentially be a sign of an infection. In general, yellow discharge that is thick, cheesy, or has a bad odor is abnormal. This form of vaginal discharge may be an indication of an infection known as trichomoniasis, which is often transmitted through sexual intercourse. Although many women with chlamydia or gonorrhea have no symptoms at all, those who do have symptoms may experience yellowish discharge.
A green vaginal discharge is usually abnormal and indicates an infection. A yellow or green thick, creamy, and foul-smelling discharge is not normal, but it could be a sign of sexually transmitted diseases such as trichomoniasis.
Risk factors of abnormal vaginal discharge
There are several risk factors of abnormal vaginal discharge.
Disruption of the vaginal flora
A healthy vagina contains bacteria, yeasts and fungi, which together and the vagina’s defenses form a dynamic balance. Changes in vaginal discharge can occur when the normal balance of bacteria, yeast and fungi in your vagina is disrupted. Many factors can disrupt the balance of a healthy vagina, including vaginal douching, feminine hygiene sprays, certain soaps or bubble baths, antibiotics, diabetes, pregnancy, or infections.
Vaginal douches, rinses, soap or deodorant
The use of vaginal douches, rinses, soap or deodorant can irritate the vaginal mucosa and change the normal balance in your vagina. Vaginal douching can also spread an infection in the uterus, increasing the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease that can lead to vaginal discharge. Vaginal douching is not necessary to keep your body clean. Odors you may notice usually come from outside the vagina, the vulva. Keeping this area clean with mild soap and water can help prevent odors. When showering, rinsing the outside of the labia with lukewarm water is sufficient. Know that the inside of the vagina cleans itself.
Vaginal yeast infection
The cause of a vaginal yeast infection often remains unclear. It is not due to infection, but there is more fungus in the vagina than there normally should be. There are a number of factors that can disrupt the balance between bacteria and fungi in the vagina, such as hormonal changes around menstruation or during pregnancy, washing your vagina thoroughly with soap, the use of antibiotics that give fungi the opportunity to express themselves. expansion and the use of corticosteroids. Girls and women with diabetes are also more likely to develop vaginal yeast infections.
Bacterial vaginosis is usually caused by Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria. Why some women get this infection is not clear. Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted disease, but is based on a disturbance of the bacterial balance in the vagina. Bacterial vaginosis causes a thin, white or gray vaginal discharge with a strong fishy odor.
Trichomoniasis is caused by an organism called Trichomonas vaginalis. You can be infected and not have any symptoms for a long time. You usually contract trichomoniasis through sexual intercourse without a condom with someone who is infected.
Two sexually transmitted infections, chlamydia and gonorrhea, can also cause abnormal vaginal discharge. You contract both sexually transmitted diseases by having unsafe sex with an infected partner.
Consult your doctor if you have abnormal vaginal discharge / Source: Istock.com/Wavebreakmedia
Vaginal discharge alarm symptoms
When is the best time to contact your doctor if you experience vaginal discharge? Contact your doctor in the following situations:
- persistent vaginal itching;
- if you have a burning sensation when urinating;
- if the discharge changes color and odor (white or greenish-yellow, foul odor).
- with bloody vaginal discharge, outside menstruation;
- if a sexually transmitted disease is suspected;
- if the complaints are accompanied by pain in the lower abdomen;
- if the complaints are annoying or painful;
- if there are other symptoms that worry you.
Examination and diagnosis
The doctor will start with an extensive interview about your complaints (anamnesis), during which he will take your medical history into account. He can ask, among others, the following questions:
- When did you first notice abnormal vaginal discharge?
- What color is the discharge?
- Does it have a smell?
- Do you suffer from additional complaints, such as itching, pain or burning sensation in or around the vagina?
- Do you have more than one sex partner?
- Do you do vaginal douching?
- Have you recently had a course of antibiotics?
Gynecological examination / Source: Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock.com
The doctor will then perform a physical examination, take a smear of the discharge and possibly perform other tests, such as blood tests. Your GP can also refer you for further examination, for example to a gynaecologist.
Treatment of vaginal discharge
The treatment for abnormal vaginal discharge depends on what is causing the problem. For example, yeast infections are usually treated with antifungal medications inserted into the vagina. Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotic pills or creams. Trichomonas can be easily treated with antibiotics. Warn your sexual partner(s) so that they can receive treatment if necessary.
Vaginal discharge is often normal, but sometimes the color, amount or consistency of the discharge indicates an underlying condition. Yeast infections, STDs and bacterial vaginosis can all lead to changes in vaginal discharge. The cause of abnormal vaginal discharge can often be treated effectively, but it is important that a diagnosis is made early to prevent complications.
Here are some tips for preventing vaginal infections that can lead to abnormal discharge:
- Keep the vulva clean with lukewarm water, but do not clean your vagina: your vagina cleans itself. So you never have to go in to clean it. This only causes irritation, discomfort and unpleasant odors.
- Never use scented soaps and feminine products such as vaginal douche, refreshing wipes for the female genitals and vaginal deodorant. These are the products that women should avoid. This also applies to feminine sprays and bubble baths.
- Always dry your vagina from front to back to prevent bacteria from entering the vagina and causing an infection.
- Wear 100% cotton underwear and avoid excessively tight clothing.
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- White discharge: causes thick, lumpy white discharge