Vaginal discharge is usually white, but when you see a different color, you may be wondering if that is normal. You may also start thinking about the foods you ate for the past few days or if it is already that time of the month. The good news is that many colors are normal, but even if you are releasing clear discharges, what do these colors and types mean?
Many women want to discuss about vaginal discharge but feel weird or nervous talking about it to friends or family members. Keep in mind that those discharges are normal and all females have it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of as it is an essential function in the female body. Normal discharge ranges in color and varies in amount. In cases of slight odor, it can be a sign of an infection.
Knowing what to look out for and noticing changes in your normal discharge could also help you stay on the right side of a healthy reproductive system.
What is Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge, a fluid released by glands in the cervix and vagina, serves a vital function in the female reproductive system. This fluid carries bacteria and dead cells out of the body. Normal vaginal discharge provides lubrication, helps in preventing the development of an infection, and keeps the vaginal tissues clean. Depending on the stage of your menstrual cycle, the color, amount, and consistency of normal vaginal discharge vary from clear and watery to milky whitish.
Clear or whitish discharge is usually odorless but may produce a faint smell. The texture may also vary and be stringy, watery, or thin depending on the time of the month. The amount released may change as well. You may release nothing on some days, have a few drops every day, and heavy discharges on other days.
Normal vaginal discharge has a wide range of color, texture, and amount, so it is vital to recognize what is normal for your body. If the consistency, smell, or color seems different than normal, you could be experiencing an infection or other medical condition, especially if you also have vaginal burning or itching.
See a doctor if your discharge is accompanied by pain, itching, frothy texture, burning sensation while urinating, gray in color, strong odor, and bleeding that is unrelated to your menstruation.
Vaginal Discharge Color and Types
There are many types of vaginal discharged, and they are grouped based on their consistency and color. The color of normal vaginal discharge should either be clear or white. Any change in color could be a sign of an infection.
White is generally the normal color of vaginal discharge, and you may notice it around the time of your menstruation. However, if the discharge has a thick consistency with cottage cheese texture or followed by itching sensation, this could be a sign of a yeast infection. This discharge can be anything from normal to a serious health problem, depending on the occurrence of other symptoms.
If odor, itching, or pelvic pain is present, it could be a sign of an STI or bacterial vaginosis. As long as there are no other symptoms, white discharge is normal.
Women may experience clear and watery discharge at any time of the time. This is completely normal, and may be particularly prevalent after workouts. If the vaginal discharge is clear but a bit stretchy or sticky that seems like mucus, this only suggests that you are ovulating and there is nothing to worry about. This is perfectly normal and healthy discharge.
Besides ovulation, you may also notice clear discharge due to sexual arousal. Pregnancy can also cause increase the amount of fluid you release due to hormonal changes.
Brown or Bloody Discharge
If you have a brown discharge during your period or towards the end of your menstruation, this may be normal. Late discharges at the end of menstruation can look brownish instead of bright red. This could be a mixture of blood in the normal discharge. You may also notice a tiny bloody discharge between periods.
Some women have spotting and irregular periods, while others experience spotting due to hormonal changes or birth control method. But if you have spotting during the normal time of your period and you recently had sex without protection, this could be an indication of pregnancy. Spotting during the early stage of pregnancy could be a sign of miscarriage.
If you experience this, it is best to visit your doctor. It may not be a miscarriage or a sign of infection, but if a woman is postmenopausal, this could be a sign of cancer. In some cases, bloody or brown discharge could be a symptom of advanced cervical cancer.
Very light yellow discharge is normal. However, dark yellow could also be a sign of an infection. Consider thinking about what you ate for the past few days as this could affect the color of your discharge.
When the discharge is chunky, thick, or when it produces a strong odor, it may be a symptom of Trichomoniasis, an infection transmitted through sexual intercourse. Even though many women who have gonorrhea or chlamydia do not experience any symptoms, those who do may notice a yellow discharge.
Green discharge is abnormal and is a sign of an infection. A green or yellow discharge that is chunky, thick, and produces foul odor could be a sign of a sexually transmitted disease, such as Trichomoniasis. If you experience green discharge, see a doctor right away for proper diagnosis and immediate treatment.
Storm Cloud Gray Discharge
If your discharge changes from clear to gray, make an appointment with your doctor or OB-GYN. It could be a symptom of bacterial vaginosis, which is a common infection among women. Your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics or antibacterial ointments.
Causes of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Clear or whitish vaginal discharge is a healthy function of the body. It only means that your body system cleans and protects the vagina by removing dead cells and bacteria. When doing extensive physical activities, it is completely normal to have an increased discharge. You may also experience additional discharge during ovulation, sexual arousal, when suffering from emotional stress, and when using birth control pills.
Changes in the vagina’s normal balance of bacteria can affect the color, smell, and consistency of your discharge. Below are the common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge:
1. Yeast Infection
A vaginal yeast infection causes discharge, irritation, and itchiness of the vulva (tissues at the vaginal opening) and the vagina. Also known as vaginal candidiasis or fungal infection of the vagina, 3 out of 4 women experience it at some point in their lives. Even though it is not a sexually transmitted disease, a person can spread the fungus through the mouth or genital contact. The common symptoms of yeast infection include:
- Irritation and itching in the vagina and vulva
- Swelling and redness of the vulva
- Burning sensation while urinating or during intercourse
- Watery vaginal discharge
- Odor-free vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese
Vaginal yeast infection is caused by the fungus candida. Although your vagina naturally has a balanced mix of yeast, such as bacteria and candida, disruptions to the balance can lead to an infection. Yeast overgrowth can result from a weakened immune system, antibiotic use, hormone therapy or taking oral contraceptives, and pregnancy.
Treatment for this condition depends on the number of symptoms and episodes of infection. For mild to moderate, your doctor may prescribe antifungal medications such as ointments, creams, suppositories, and tablets. For complicated yeast infection, you may be required to take a long-course vaginal therapy, maintenance plan, and multidose oral medication.
Cervicitis occurs when the cervix, the narrow neck-like passage at the lower end of the uterus, becomes inflamed. It can be caused by an allergy to latex in condoms or contraceptive spermicides. A reaction to scented or certain feminine products, such as feminine deodorants and douches, can result in inflammation of the cervix. Bacterial overgrowth is also a possible cause of cervicitis.
Most often, viral and bacterial infections that cause this condition are transmitted by sexual contact. Cervicitis is usually caused by sexually transmitted infections, such as genital herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and Trichomoniasis. If you develop symptoms, these may include:
- Painful and frequent urination
- Heavy amounts of vaginal discharge
- Bleeding between menstrual periods
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse
- Pain during intercourse
If cervicitis is caused by an allergic reaction to certain products, you won’t need any treatments for this condition. Know your allergies and avoid using those products.
Cervicitis resulted from a sexually transmitted infection requires treatment. Doctors often prescribe antibiotic medications for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and bacterial infections. Your doctor may also require repeat testing. Refrain from any sexual activities until you are finished with the treatment.
If the underlying cause is general herpes, doctors recommend antiviral medication to alleviate the symptoms. There is no cure for herpes, but Valacyclovir (Valtrex) or Acyclovir (Zovirax) can help sores heal faster, lower the frequency of recurrence, alleviate symptoms, and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to another.
3. Bacterial Vaginosis (Vaginitis)
A type of vaginal inflammation caused by bacterial overgrowth, vaginitis can affect women of any age. Certain activities such as frequent douching or unprotected sex increase one’s risk of developing this condition. The signs and symptoms of bacterial vaginosis may include:
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Fishy or foul-smelling vaginal odor
- Gray, green or white vaginal discharge
- Vaginal itching
Although it doesn’t often cause complications, vaginitis may lead to preterm birth, pelvic inflammatory disease, increased risk of sexually transmitted infections, and increased risk of developing an infection after gynecologic surgery.
Doctors diagnose bacterial vaginosis by asking questions about your medical history, performing an exam, testing the vaginal pH, and taking a sample of vaginal secretions. Your physician may prescribe Clindamycin (Clindesse, Cleocin), Tinidazole (Tindamax), or Metronidazole (Metrogel-Vaginal, Flagyl).
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause painful urination, genital itching, and foul-smelling vaginal discharge. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 3.7 million Americans get infected, but it can be treated easily.
This condition is caused by a type of tiny parasite that moves between people during sexual intercourse. Although the incubation period is still unknown, it can range from five days to 28 days. Some women don’t develop any symptoms, but when they do, these include:
- Pain during sexual intercourse or urination
- Genital redness, itching, and burning
- A foul-smelling vaginal discharge that might be white, yellow, green or gray
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting
Pregnant women who have Trichomoniasis might transmit the infection, have a baby with lower birth weight than normal, or deliver prematurely.
To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will check a sample of vaginal fluid. A number of tests can also diagnose trich, such as antigen tests, cell cultures, and tests that look for Trichomonas.
The common treatment for Trichomoniasis is to take either tinidazole (Tindamax) or metronidazole (Flagyl). Until the infection is cured, you and your partner should avoid sexual interactions. It is also important to avoid consumption of alcohol 72 hours after taking tinidazole or 24 hours after swallowing metronidazole.
5. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease or PID is an infection acquired during unprotected sex. This condition affects 1 million women in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Many different types of bacteria can cause PID, such as the bacteria that cause chlamydia and gonorrhea. The bacteria enter the vagina and cause an infection. Without treatment, it can move into your pelvic area.
If the infection enters your bloodstream, PID can become life-threatening. Although some women don’t develop any symptoms, women who do may experience:
- Foul-smelling and increased vaginal discharge
- Pain in the upper or lower abdomen
- Irregular bleeding
- Pain while urinating or having sex
Some people may also experience sharp pain in the abdomen, a high fever, fainting, and vomiting. If you are experiencing these symptoms, visit your doctor or have someone take you to the ER as the infection may have spread to other areas of the body.
PID is diagnosed based on symptoms, urine tests, an analysis of cervical cultures and vaginal discharge, or a pelvic exam. To treat pelvic inflammatory disease, your doctor may prescribe a combination of antibiotics. Your partner should also be treated or examined as infected partners may not have any symptoms. Avoid having sexual intercourse until the infection has cleared.
Gonorrhea is an infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It often affects the urethra, cervix, throat, and rectum. It is commonly transmitted during sex, and babies can get the infection if their moms are infected. In most cases, this condition causes no signs. Women may not know that they are infected until these symptoms appear:
- Painful urination
- Increased vaginal discharge that is creamy, watery, or slightly green
- Spotting or heavier periods
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Sharp pain in the lower abdomen
Gonorrhea may also cause eye pain, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and joint pain. Without treatment, the infection can spread into the uterus as well as the fallopian tubes, which may lead to infertility. Babies who contract the infection during birth may develop blindness and sores.
Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. Your doctor may recommend a single dose of Azithromycin or an injection of Ceftriaxone to the buttocks. Even if your partner has no symptoms, he should undergo testing and treatment as you can get the infection again if he is not treated properly.
Babies with gonorrhea will receive medication in their eyes to prevent the infection. But if an eye infection occurs, antibiotics may be prescribed.
Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection that causes discharge and genital pain. Although it is most prevalent among young women, this condition can affect men and women in all age groups. Without treatment, it can result in severe health problems. Caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria, it is commonly transmitted through oral, anal, and vaginal sex. A mother may also spread the infection to her baby during delivery, causing a serious eye infection or pneumonia.
Signs and symptoms of chlamydia are often mild. Early-stages do not usually show any symptoms, but when they do, you may experience:
- Yellow or green discharge
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Bleeding after sex
- Lower abdominal pain
- Bleeding between periods
This infection can also spread to the rectum and cause rectal discharge, bleeding, and pain. Because having chlamydia increases one’s risk of developing other health problems, it is important to have a proper diagnosis and immediate treatment.
After screening and diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe a one-time dose of antibiotic, or medication that should be taken every day or multiple times a day. The infection usually resolves within a week or two. During that time, avoid sexual interactions. Your partner should also be examined even if they don’t experience anything unusual.
8. Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer occurs when the cells in the cervix start to multiply rapidly. If it goes untreated or undetected, it can be life-threatening. Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). When exposed to this virus, the immune system prevents the virus from doing any harm. However, it can survive for years and cause some cells to become abnormal.
Early stages of cervical cancer do not always show any symptoms. This is why it is easy to be ignored. But when symptoms occur in advanced stages, these include:
- Watery or bloody vaginal discharge that may produce a foul odor
- Pain during intercourse
- Pelvic pain
- Painful urination
- Feeling the need to urinate frequently
The treatment for cervical cancer may depend on the type. The two main types are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. In some cases, both types are involved. If detected early, the condition is more likely to be treated effectively. Early-stage of cervical cancer is treated by removing the uterus (hysterectomy). This procedure will cure cancer and prevent it from reoccurring.
Other treatments are radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Radiation uses high-powered energy beams to purge cancer cells. Chemotherapy uses medicines to kill cancer cells.
9. Rectovaginal Fistula
A fistula is an abnormal connection between two organs. A rectovaginal fistula is a connection between a woman’s vagina and rectum. The opening lets gas and stool to leak through the vagina. Although this occurs due to injury during childbirth, it can also be caused by an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease, complication after surgery in the pelvic area, or radiation treatment. Rectovaginal fistulas can cause many symptoms, such as:
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- Passing gas or stool from the vagina
- Pain or irritation in the vulva
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
- Pain during sexual intercourse
Treatment for fistula depends on its location, size, effect on surrounding tissues, and underlying cause. Your doctor may recommend antibiotics and infliximab (Remicade) to reduce inflammation in people with Chron’s disease. Surgery is required to repair or close the fistula. Before the operation, the skin and other tissues around the fistula should be healthy, without inflammation or infection.
Surgical options include repairing the anal sphincter muscles, using a tissue graft, sewing an anal fistula, and performing a colostomy in cases of recurrent or complex fistula.
10. Vaginal Atrophy
Also known as atrophic vaginitis, vaginal atrophy is drying, thinning, and inflammation of the vaginal walls. This occurs when the body does not have enough estrogen and usually happens after menopause. A drop in estrogen levels may also occur after chemotherapy for cancer, after pelvic radiation, or as a side effect of breast cancer treatment.
In addition to making sexual intercourse painful, it can also result in distressing urinary symptoms. Experts agree that “genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM)” is the suitable term for vaginal atrophy and its symptoms. Other signs and symptoms of GSM include:
- Vaginal discharge, dryness, and burning
- Genital itching
- More urinary tract infections
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Decreased vaginal lubrication during intercourse
- Tightening and shortening of the vaginal canal
- Feeling the need to urinate more often
Your physician may first recommend that you use a water-based lubricant to alleviate discomfort during discomfort or try a vaginal moisturizer to restore moisture to the vaginal area. In cases of bothersome symptoms, your doctor may recommend oral estrogen or topical estrogen.
Other Possible Causes of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Other reasons for abnormal vaginal discharge are:
- Pregnancy – Normal vaginal discharge when you are pregnant is thin, milky, white, and mild smelling. If the vaginal discharge is yellowish or green, accompanied by itching or redness, and strong smelling, this could be a sign of a vaginal infection.
- Birth Control Pills – Contraceptive pills contain progestagen and estrogen Estrogen increases the amount of lubrication within the vagina. Provided the fluid is not irritating or itchy, there is no infection.
- Steroid Use – Steroid can increase the amount of vaginal discharge and may produce unpleasant scent.
- Diabetes – The common cause of abnormal vaginal discharge in a person with diabetes is a yeast
- Scented Lotions, Bubble Bath, Soaps
- Wearing underwear that is synthetic or too tight
How to Keep Your Vagina Healthy
A healthy vagina produces small amounts of clear or white discharge. Vaginal pH is normally from 3.8 to 4.5, but douching can disrupt the normal pH levels of your vagina. This reduces acidity and allows bacterial infections to develop.
If your vagina produces an unpleasant odor, it is important to see a doctor for proper diagnosis. Douching may cover up the smell, but it cannot cure the underlying problem. Also, do not use harsh cleansers or soaps on the vulva as it can also affect your vagina’s pH balance.
Drinking plenty of fluids and following a nutritious diet
These are essential to keep your vagina and reproductive system healthy. Yogurt, especially Greek yogurt, helps in preventing and treating yeast infections. Consume foods rich in probiotic if you are prone to yeast infections. Drink or take cranberry supplement daily if you are likely to have to urinary tract infections.
Choose Proper Clothing
Keep your vagina clean and dry. Some types of fabrics and clothing create moist and warm conditions that allow yeast to develop. Always wear breathable undergarments and change sweaty clothes as soon as possible.
Follow Good Hygiene
During your period, change your napkins and tampons regularly. It is fine to wear panty liners for vaginal discharge as long as you change them all the time. After bowel movements, make sure that you wipe from front to back to prevent infections.
Practice Safe Sex
Using condoms during sex can help protect against sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, genital herpes, HIV, gonorrhea, and genital warts. Avoid sharing sex toys with your partner as it can spread infections that way, especially human papillomavirus.
See Your Gynecologist or Doctor for Checkups
Regular gynecological exams are essential in keeping your vagina healthy. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women to have their first gynecologic exam at the age of 21. Physicians can diagnose disorders and diseases that can harm not only your reproductive system but also your overall health.