- Normal Discharge
- Abnormal Discharge
What Is Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge describes fluid or mucus that comes from the vagina. Vaginal discharge helps protect the vagina and urinary tract from infections and helps lubricate vaginal tissues. A certain amount of vaginal discharge is normal, unless it occurs with bothersome symptoms.
What Is Normal Vaginal Discharge?
Normal vaginal discharge is composed of skin cells, bacteria, mucus, and fluid produced by the vagina and cervix under the influence of the female hormone, estrogen.
The amount and consistency of discharge can vary during the menstrual cycle and can be different from one woman to another. Normal daily vaginal discharge in premenopausal females is usually:
- Mostly odorless/slight odor
- White or clear
- Thick and mucus-like
- May cause mild irritation of the vulva (the exterior of the vagina, which includes the labia, clitoris, vaginal opening, and the opening to the urethra)
- About one-half to one teaspoon
It is normal for vaginal discharge to increase:
- During pregnancy
- With use of birth control pills/patch/vaginal ring
- Near ovulation
- In the week before the menstrual period
Minimal vaginal discharge is normal in menopausal women, who have lower levels of estrogen.
What Is Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?
- Be foamy
- Be greenish-yellow in color
- Have blood in it
- Have a foul odor
Vaginal discharge may also be abnormal if it is accompanied by:
What Causes Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?
Causes of abnormal vaginal discharge include:
- Vaginal infection
- A reaction to a foreign body (such as a forgotten tampon or condom) or substance (such as a spermicide or soap)
- Menopausal changes
- Vaginal atrophy, the thinning and drying out of the vaginal walls
- Use of birth control pills
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Certain medications such as antibiotics or steroids
- Use of douches, scented soaps or lotions, bubble bath
- Cervical cancer
- Pelvic infection after surgery
- Irritation in or around the vagina (vaginitis)
How Is Abnormal Vaginal Discharge Diagnosed?
If you have any symptoms of abnormal vaginal discharge, see a doctor to determine the cause.
To determine the cause of abnormal vaginal discharge, a physical examination of the outer genital area and the internal area is performed.
A sample of the discharge may be taken to test for infection and measure the pH or acidity of the secretions.
What Is the Treatment for Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?
Treatment for abnormal vaginal discharge depends on the cause.
- Treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomonas: antibiotics
- Patients who have STIs should avoid intercourse until treatment is completed
- Sexual partners of patients who have STIs should also be treated
- Treatment for yeast infection: antifungals
- Treatment for bacterial vaginosis: antibiotics
Women who tend to develop frequent bacterial or yeast infections may need to use a preventive treatment.
Self-treatment for abnormal vaginal discharge is not recommended without knowing the cause.
Douching to get rid of the discharge is not advised because it can make the discharge worse if it is due to an infection.
How Do You Prevent Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?
Abnormal vaginal discharge may be prevented in some cases by lifestyle modifications:
- Avoid using douche
- Do not wear pantyliners every day
- Rinse genitals with water and/or pat dry after using the toilet
- Don’t use baby wipes or scented toilet paper
- Avoid feminine hygiene sprays, powders, or rinses
- Don’t take hot baths, bubble baths, or use scented bath products
- Avoid tight or restrictive clothing
- Avoid thongs and synthetic underwear; wear cotton underwear
- Use water or unscented non-soap cleanser to wash genitalia, use warm (not hot) water and the hand (not a washcloth)
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