Vaginal Discharge-What’s Normal and When Should You Call Your Doctor?

Vaginal Discharge-What's Normal and When Should You Call Your Doctor?

By Idries Abdur-Rahman, M.D., FACOG

 

WHY DOES THE VAGINA MAKE DISCHARGE?

Vaginal Discharge-What's Normal and When Should You Call Your Doctor?

The vagina actually produces discharge for a multitude of very good reasons including:

1). To clean the vagina and help maintain the normal vaginal pH. One of the most important functions of vaginal discharge is to actually flush and clean the vagina. The vagina is full of bacteria, many of which serve important functions, others however can potentially cause harm. The vagina produces discharge to flush out the bad bacteria/organisms and other things that just don’t belong there.

2). Normal sexual functioning. Another important function of vaginal discharge is to aid in sexual function. Vaginal lubrication not only makes sexual intercourse more pleasurable but it also protects the vaginal lining from trauma which is not only uncomfortable but also can increase the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections including HIV.

 

WHAT IS NORMAL VAGINAL DISCHARGE?

Vaginal Discharge-What's Normal and When Should You Call Your Doctor?

So, we know that the vagina makes discharge and we know why it makes discharge, but how do we know what constitutes normal vaginal discharge?

1). Normal vaginal discharge usually has the following characteristics:

  • Color: Clear, white or pale yellow.
  • Odor: No odor or a very mild odor.
  • Association with your period: May increase in amount from ovulation until your period begins.
  • Association with sex: No change after sex.
  • Association with irregular spotting or bleeding: No spotting or bleeding.

2). Abnormal vaginal discharge usually has the following characteristics:

  • Color: Deep yellow, green or brown.
  • Odor: Strong odor may be present. Odor at times may be fishy.
  • Association with your period: Discharge and symptoms may increase after your period.
  • Association with sex: Odor (especially if fishy) may increase after sex.
  • Association with irregular spotting or bleeding: Discharge may be accompanied by spotting or bleeding not related to your normal period.

 

WHAT COULD ABNORMAL VAGINAL DISCHARGE MEAN?

Vaginal Discharge-What's Normal and When Should You Call Your Doctor?

Anytime you have vaginal discharge that is abnormal, the primary concern is that there could be a vaginal or cervical infection. Infections could either be sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) or non-STI’s and possibilities include:

  • Yeast infection: Yeast infections are not STI’s and are associated with
  1. Thick, white discharge, frequently described as cottage cheese like.
  2. No odor.
  3. Vaginal itching, burning and inflammation.
  • Bacterial Vaginosis:
  1. Thinner vaginal discharge that is often gray in color.
  2. Fishy odor that is stronger after sex or during the menstrual period.
  3. Vaginal itching.
  • STI’s like Trichomoniasis, Chlamydia or Gonorrhea:
  1. Discharge that is deep yellow, green and/or frothy.
  2. Sometimes a foul odor may be present.
  3. Vaginal burning is often present.
  4. May be associated with pelvic pain that especially worsens after the menstrual period.
  • Retained tampon: Retained tampons are not infections and they are a relatively rare cause of vaginal discharge but when they occur they are associated with extremely malodorous and copious vaginal discharge.

 

TREATMENTS FOR VAGINAL DISCHARGE:

Vaginal Discharge-What's Normal and When Should You Call Your Doctor?

Thankfully most causes of vaginal discharge can be treated easily and effectively.

  • Yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter anti fungal creams like Monistat. We do recommend however that you see your healthcare provider ASAP if you self treat and symptoms do not improve as you could potentially have a more serious infection.
  • Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) can be treated with prescription antibiotics (administered orally or vaginally as creams or gels). Women that experience chronic BV should consider having their sexual partners treated as well.
  • STI’s like Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and Trichomoniasis also require prescription antibiotics that are either administered orally or as an injection. With all STI’s, it is crucial that your sexual partner(s) be treated before resuming sexual activity.

 

Ever wonder why sex may be painful, Dr. I breaks it all down for you right HERE.

Speaking of STI’s, are you sure that you are really practicing safe sex. Read HERE and decided for yourself.