Vaginal discharge is most often a
normal and regular occurrence. However, there are certain types of discharge
that can indicate an infection. Abnormal discharge may be yellow or green,
chunky in consistency, or have a foul odor. Abnormal discharge is usually caused
by yeast or bacterial infection. If you notice any discharge that looks unusual
or is foul smelling, you should see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Types of Vaginal
There are several different types of
vaginal discharge. These types are categorized based on their color and
consistency. Some types of discharge are normal, but others may indicate an
underlying condition that requires treatment.
A bit of white discharge, especially
at the beginning or end of your menstrual cycle, is normal. However, if the
discharge is accompanied by itching and has a thick, cottage cheese-like
consistency or appearance, it’s not normal and needs treatment. This type of
discharge may be a sign of a yeast infection.
Clear and Watery
A clear and watery discharge is
perfectly normal and can occur at any time of the month. It may be especially
heavy after exercise.
Clear and Stretchy
When discharge is clear but stretchy
and mucous-like, rather than watery, it indicates that you are likely ovulating.
This is a normal type of discharge.
Brown or Bloody
Brown or bloody discharge is usually
normal, especially when it occurs during or right after your menstrual cycle. A
late discharge at the end of your period can look brown instead of red. You may
also experience a small amount of bloody discharge in between periods, which is
called spotting. If spotting occurs during the normal time of your period and
you have recently had sex without protection, this could be a sign of
pregnancy. Spotting during an early phase of pregnancy can be a sign of
miscarriage, so it should be discussed with your OB-GYN.
In rare cases, brown or bloody discharge
can be a sign of advanced cervical cancer. This is why it’s important to get a
yearly pelvic exam and Pap smear, during which your gynecologist will check for
Yellow or Green
A yellow or green discharge,
especially when it’s thick, chunky, or accompanied by a bad smell, is not
normal. This type of discharge may be a sign of the infection trichomoniasis,
which is commonly spread through sexual intercourse.
Normal vaginal discharge is a healthy
bodily function, and it’s your body’s way of cleaning and protecting the
vagina. It’s normal for discharge to increase with exercise, sexual arousal,
ovulation, birth control pill use, and emotional stress.
Abnormal vaginal discharge, however,
is usually caused by an infection.
Bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial infection and is
quite common. This infection causes increased vaginal discharge that has a
strong, foul, and sometimes fishy odor, although it produces no symptoms in
some cases. Women who receive oral sex or who have multiple sexual partners
have an increased
risk of acquiring this infection.
This is another type of infection,
but a protozoan (a single-celled organism) causes it. The infection is usually
spread by sexual contact, but it can also be contracted by sharing towels or
bathing suits. This infection results in a yellow or green discharge that has a
foul odor. Pain, inflammation, and itching are also common symptoms, although
some people don’t experience any symptoms.
A yeast infection is a fungal
infection that produces white, cottage cheese-like discharge in addition to
burning and itching sensations. The presence of yeast in the vagina is normal,
but its growth can multiply out of control in certain situations. The following
may increase your likelihood of yeast infections:
- birth control pill use
- antibiotics (especially prolonged use over 10 days)
Gonorrhea and Chlamydia
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted
infections can produce an abnormal discharge, which is often yellow, greenish,
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammitory disease is an infection that is often spread
by sexual contact. It occurs when bacteria spreads up the vagina and into other
reproductive organs. It may produce a heavy, foul-smelling discharge.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) or Cervical Cancer
The human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which is spread
by sexual contact, can lead to cervical cancer. While there may be no symptoms,
this type of cancer can produce a bloody, brown, and/or watery discharge with a
bad odor. Cervical cancer can easily be prevented or found with yearly Pap
smears and HPV testing.
Seek Medical Help
If you have unusual discharge with
other symptoms such as a fever, pain in the abdomen, unexplained weight loss,
fatigue, or increased urination, you should see your doctor as soon as
possible. If you have any concerns about the normality of a discharge, make an
appointment to see your doctor.
Expect at a Doctor’s Appointment
When you see your
doctor for abnormal vaginal discharge, you will get a physical exam, including
a pelvic exam. Your doctor will also ask you several questions about your
symptoms, your menstrual cycle, and your sexual activity. In many cases, an
infection can be detected by the physical or pelvic exam.
If your doctor can’t
diagnose the problem immediately, he or she may order some tests. Your doctor
may want to take a scraping from your cervix to check for HPV or cervical
cancer. Your discharge may also be examined under a microscope to pinpoint an
infectious agent. Once your doctor can tell you the cause of the discharge, you
will be given treatment options.
Home Care for
infections, you should practice good hygiene and wear breathable cotton
underwear. Don’t use douches because they can make discharge worse by removing
useful bacteria. You should also practice safe sex and use protection to avoid
sexually transmitted diseases.
To decrease the
likelihood of yeast infections when taking antibiotics, eat yogurt that
contains live and active cultures. If you know you have a yeast infection, you
can also treat it with an over-the-counter yeast infection cream or
We pick these items based on the quality of the products, and list the pros and cons of each to help you determine which will work best for you. We partner with some of the companies that sell these products, which means Healthline may receive a portion of the revenues when you buy something using the links above.