Menopause is a natural part of life. It’s the line between perimenopause and postmenopause.
You’ve reached menopause when you haven’t had a period in 12 months. Changes begin much earlier than that, though. Starting when your body’s production of estrogen and progesterone begins to decline enough to cause noticeable symptoms, you’re in perimenopause.
This transitional phase tends to begin between the ages of 45 and 55 and can last anywhere from 7 to 14 years. However, it can happen earlier and more abruptly if you’ve had your uterus or ovaries surgically removed. After menopause, you’re considered postmenopausal.
Changing hormone levels can produce a variety of effects, which could mean an increase or decrease in vaginal discharge. Vaginal discharge is normal throughout a woman’s life. It helps with lubrication and contains a certain amount of acidity, which helps fight infection.
Increasing vaginal discharge may be distracting at this time, but it’s not necessarily something that needs treatment. On the other hand, unusual vaginal discharge can be a sign that something is wrong.
Keep reading to learn more about the type of discharge you can expect at menopause and when you should see your doctor.
Vaginal discharge varies from woman to woman and at different times of life.
Generally speaking, healthy discharge is white, cream, or clear. It’s not too thick and can even be a little watery. It doesn’t have a strong odor and doesn’t cause irritation.
You can have so little that you don’t even notice it until you see it on your underwear. Or you can have so much that you need a panty liner on some days. Both are within the normal range.
The color of your discharge can be a clue that there’s something wrong:
- Thick white discharge with the consistency of cottage cheese: This could signal a yeast infection.
- Grayish discharge: This could be due to a bacterial infection.
- Greenish-yellow discharge: This could be a symptom of desquamative inflammatory vaginitis, vaginal atrophy, or trichomoniasis.
- Pink or brown discharge: Pink or brown discharge probably contains blood. If you’ve gone 12 months without a period, you shouldn’t be seeing blood in your discharge. This could be a sign that there’s an abnormality of the uterus. It can also be a symptom of cancer.
Here are some more signs that your discharge may not be normal:
- It has an unpleasant odor.
- It is irritating your vagina or vulva.
- It’s more than a panty liner can handle.
- You have other unpleasant symptoms, such as redness, burning, or painful intercourse.
You probably noticed changes in discharge during perimenopause. There are several reasons you might have vaginal discharge as you reach menopause.
For one thing, your body has been through many changes in the past few years. Levels of estrogen and progesterone are much lower than they once were. For many women, though, this means less vaginal discharge, not more.
Lower amounts of female hormones can cause the vagina to become thinner, drier, and more easily irritated. Your body may respond by producing additional discharge.
Now that your skin is a little thinner and more delicate, it can even be irritated when touched by urine. This can lead to increased discharge.
A thinning vagina can also make it easier to develop vaginal infections, along with abnormal discharge.
If you’ve had a hysterectomy, you no longer have a uterus. While that puts an immediate end to menstruation, it doesn’t stop the vagina from producing some lubrication. That’s a good thing, because vaginal discharge at menopause helps keep your vagina lubricated during intercourse.
In fact, having regular intercourse or other vaginal activity will help keep your vagina healthy. Otherwise, you may develop vaginal atrophy, a condition in which your vaginal walls get shorter and narrower. This can cause a problem on the other end of the spectrum: excessive vaginal dryness. It also leads to irritation, inflammation, and pain during intercourse.
Everyone is different. In general, the lower your female hormone levels, the less discharge you’ll have. You may always have a certain amount of vaginal discharge, though.
If there’s nothing medically wrong, there’s no way to tell how long it’ll last. Perimenopause is a time of great change, but once you reach the 1-year mark with no periods, your body is settling into a new normal.
Postmenopause, you may find that you have less vaginal discharge. At some point, you may even look to lubricants for relief from vaginal dryness.
If discharge is due to an infection, it should clear up fairly quickly with treatment. If you have any questions about the amount of discharge you have, it’s worth checking in with your doctor.
If you have what appears to be normal discharge, there are a few things you can do to prevent skin irritation:
- Wear loose, cotton underwear. Change them when wet.
- Use a light panty liner to keep the area dry, if necessary. Choose unscented products and change your pad often.
- Gently wash the genital area with plain water. Avoid using soap.
- Pat the area dry after bathing or showering.
Here are some things you can do to ease accompanying irritation:
- Avoid douching and using feminine hygiene products.
- Avoid bubble baths and bathing with products containing fragrances and other harsh ingredients.
- Wash your underwear in gentle detergent. Skip fabric softeners and dryer sheets and rinse thoroughly.
- Make sure your clothing isn’t too tight in the genital area.
- Sleep without underwear, if you can.
You’ll probably get to know what amount of vaginal discharge is normal for you. But if you’re at all concerned about vaginal discharge, see your doctor.
Some signs that you may have a condition that requires treatment include:
- discharge of any color other than white, cream, or clear
- thick, lumpy discharge
- a foul odor
- persistent, bothersome discharge
- inflammation of the vagina and vulva (vaginitis)
- painful urination
- painful intercourse
- genital rash or sores
Any amount of bleeding after menopause is abnormal and should prompt a visit to your doctor.
Even though discharge might be perfectly normal at menopause, you can still get bacterial and yeast infections. Since your skin may be more sensitive, you can also develop vaginal and vulvar irritation due to soaps, hygiene products, and even laundry detergents.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can cause vaginal discharge include:
Be sure to discuss the color, consistency, and smell of your discharge, plus any other symptoms you may have.
After discussing your symptoms and health history, your doctor will likely perform a pelvic exam to look for any irregularities. Diagnosis may also involve an examination of the vaginal discharge under a microscope to check the acidity level and for signs of infection.
Normal vaginal discharge doesn’t need to be treated.
Your doctor can prescribe medications for bacterial infections an STIs.
Vaginal discharge is normal throughout a woman’s lifetime, but there are natural fluctuations in the amount.
Menopause is the dividing line between perimenopause and postmenopause. You may notice an increase or decrease in discharge during this time.
There’s no cause for concern if your discharge is a normal color and consistency and you have no other symptoms. But if it doesn’t look normal, has an unpleasant odor, or is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor. It may be due to an infection or illness that needs treatment.