What Are Causes of Yellow Discharge and What Does It Mean?

Medically Reviewed on 3/7/2022

What is yellow discharge?

The causes of yellow vaginal discharge may or may not be a sign of infection. You'll need to check to see if you have any other symptoms in addition to the discharge.
The causes of yellow vaginal discharge may or may not be a sign of infection. You'll need to check to see if you have any other symptoms in addition to the discharge.

All women have vaginal discharge during their normal monthly cycle. It’s the body’s natural way to keep clean and flush out bacteria. 

Discharge is vital to keeping your vagina moist. It creates the right balance between the naturally occurring bacteria and yeast that are always present in your vagina.

Healthy discharge is generally clear, watery, pale yellow, or white. It doesn’t have an intense smell or strong color. 

The amount and color of discharge will typically vary depending on where you are in your cycle. It’s the heaviest close to ovulation and increases with sexual arousal.

Vaginal discharge is affected by many different factors, such as:

If you notice a yellow discharge, you’ll want to pay attention to your body and check for other symptoms.

Signs of yellow discharge

Yellow discharge can be anywhere from light yellow to a darker yellow-greenish. It’s noticeable in your underwear or on toilet paper after using the bathroom. 

A pale yellow without any odor is considered normal.


Causes of yellow discharge

The causes of yellow discharge may or may not be a sign of infection. 

You’ll need to check to see if you have any other symptoms in addition to the discharge. The amount, smell, and timing of the discharge can help you determine the cause. There are several possible causes, including: 


Thin yellow discharge near the time you start your period is common. The yellow is due to early menstrual blood mixed with regular mucus discharge.


Thick yellow discharge can be an early sign of pregnancy. 


Vaginitis is another cause of yellow discharge. 

Vaginitis is an irritation or inflammation in the lining of your vagina. This can produce redness, odor, and pain.

Vaginal infection

Poor hygiene that allows fecal bacteria to spread to the vulva is another major source of infections.

Infections that cause vaginitis are not always sexually transmitted. However, all sexually transmitted diseases can cause vaginitis.

The most common infections that cause vaginitis are yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis

It’s important to be aware of your body and what’s normal for you in order to evaluate any new symptoms.

Yeast infection symptoms include:

  • Pain in the vulva
  • Intense itching
  • Thick white to yellowish discharge

Bacterial vaginosis symptoms include:

  • White, gray, or yellow discharge
  • Burning and itching
  • Redness 
  • Fishy odor

Sexually transmitted disease

The two most common sexually transmitted diseases that cause vaginitis and yellow discharge are gonorrhea and chlamydia

These STDs don’t always have symptoms. It’s possible to have them and be asymptomatic or to have only some of the symptoms but not all of them.

Gonorrhea symptoms include:

  • Yellowish to green, slightly creamy discharge
  • Sharp pain in the stomach
  • Burning during intercourse and while urinating
  • Fever

Chlamydia symptoms include:

  • Abnormal yellow to green discharge
  • Burning during intercourse and while urinating

Symptoms of trichomoniasis, another STD, include:

  • Yellowish to greenish watery discharge
  • Unpleasant smell 
  • Mild discomfort or pain while urinating

When to see the doctor for yellow discharge

You should see your doctor if you have yellow discharge and it:

  • Changes color
  • Smells foul or fishy
  • Feels sore or itchy
  • Causes you any pain in the pelvic area, especially when urinating

Diagnosis for yellow discharge

Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose the medical issue that your yellow discharge may be a symptom of.

Your doctor will do a pelvic exam to diagnose the cause of the yellow discharge. During a pelvic exam, your doctor will take a sample of your discharge that will be screened for infections. If you’re sexually active, they will also determine whether you have any sexually transmitted diseases. 

It’s essential not to use any spermicide or douche before the pelvic exam to ensure you have an accurate sample.

Treatments for yellow discharge

Once your doctor diagnoses the medical reason for your yellow discharge, it can be treated relatively quickly in most cases. Treatment is typically a topical cream or gel, or antibiotic, but it will depend on the specific cause.

If a sexually transmitted disease is the cause, your doctor will advise you to have your partner treated as well. Both you and your partner must be treated to keep you from passing it back and forth to each other.

Is it normal to have yellow discharge during pregnancy?

Pregnancy often causes an increase in vaginal discharge. However, normal vaginal discharge is typically thin, clear or white. Vaginal discharge that is yellow, green, gray, red or frothy could be a sign of infection and may require medical treatment.

What does normal vaginal discharge during pregnancy look like?

Healthy vaginal discharge is also called leukorrhea and often increases throughout pregnancy, helping to reduce the risk of vaginal and uterine infections. Characteristic features of normal vaginal discharge are as follows:

  • Thin, clear or white
  • Has a mild odor
  • May be heavy and contain pink mucus in the final weeks of pregnancy, appearing  sticky and jelly-like in consistency, indicating that the body is preparing for childbirth


The vagina includes the labia, clitoris, and uterus. See Answer

What do different vaginal discharge colors mean?

Depending on the color, vaginal discharge may indicate different health issues:

Yellow or green

Yellow or green vaginal discharge indicates an infection, possibly a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as chlamydia or trichomoniasis. Other symptoms may be present as well, such as vaginal redness or irritation. 

Yellow vaginal discharge is often mistaken as leakage of small amounts of urine. However, any yellow discharge should be evaluated by a doctor. Seeking medical attention is important because STIs during pregnancy can cause complications that affect both mother and child. These complications may not show up in the child until years after birth, but they can affect the child’s nervous system and development and cause infertility in the mother. 

White and lumpy

Vaginal discharge that is white/off-white and lumpy, resembling cottage cheese, may indicate a yeast infection, which is common during pregnancy. Other symptoms may include pain, burning, itching and painful urination or intercourse.


Gray vaginal discharge may indicate a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). It is also associated with a fishy odor that becomes stronger after intercourse. BV is a result of a bacterial imbalance in the vagina. Risk factors for BV include douching and sex with multiple partners.


Brown vaginal discharge is caused by old blood leaving the body. It may be an early sign of pregnancy. Brown discharge during pregnancy is usually not dangerous. Dark brown discharge during pregnancy, however, requires medical attention.


Pink vaginal discharge during pregnancy is usually normal during the early and final weeks of pregnancy. It can, however, also be a sign of miscarriageectopic pregnancy or vaginal infection. Pink discharge may also appear after sexual intercourse.


Red vaginal discharge during pregnancy can be dangerous and requires immediate attention, especially if there is heavy bleeding, clots, cramping and abdominal pain. Red discharge could be a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/7/2022

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Vaginal Discharge."

American Pregnancy Association: "Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy."

Associated Women's Health Specialists P.C.: "Vaginitis."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Chlamydia."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Gonorrhea."

Current Dermatology Reports: "Evaluation of Vaginal Complaints During Pregnancy: the Approach to Diagnosis."

Healthdirect: "Vaginal discharge."

Merck Manual: "Vaginal Discharge."

National Health Service: "Vaginal discharge."

South African Medical Journal: "Diagnosis and Treatment of Vaginal Discharge in Pregnancy."