What is vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge can be an embarrassment. What you need to know about vaginal discharge.

The vagina is a self-cleaning organ. It produces its own microbial environment with the help of certain good bacteria. These bacteria, along with dead cells and cellular secretions, form vaginal discharge. If your discharge is one-half to one teaspoon (2 to 5 mL) every day with the following characteristics, it is considered normal.

  • Clear, white, or off-white
  • Somewhat thin, sticky, and elastic
  • Thick and gooey
  • Mostly odorless
  • Stains (sometimes even bleaches) on the underwear

Vaginal discharge varies from woman to woman in color, smell, consistency, and amount. Moreover, it may vary during the menstrual cycle. Some conditions where vaginal discharge may be prominent include:

4 Types of normal discharge

There are four different types of normal discharge that are not concerning:

  • Clear and watery discharge is perfectly normal and isn’t accompanied by any symptoms, like pain, itching, or irritation.
  • Slight, white discharge that occurs at the beginning or end of menstruation with no accompanying symptoms is also normal.
  • Clear and stretchy discharge, or a mucous-like discharge, usually indicates ovulation.
  • Pinkish lochia is the shedding of the uterine lining after childbirth.

7 Types of abnormal discharge

These are types of abnormal vaginal discharge:

  • Bloody, brown, or watery discharge accompanied by abnormal vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain could indicate irregular menstrual cycles, or less often, cervical or endometrial cancer.
  • Cloudy or yellow discharge with bleeding between periods, fever, urinary incontinence, and pelvic pain often indicates a gonorrhea infection.
  • Frothy, yellow, or greenish discharge with an unpleasant odor, along with pain and itching while urinating could indicate trichomoniasis.
  • Thick, white, and cheesy-like discharge with symptoms of swelling and pain around the vulva, itching, and painful sexual intercourse suggests a yeast infection.
  • White, gray, or yellow discharge that has a fishy odor, in addition to itching or burning, redness, and swelling of the vagina or vulva are symptoms of bacterial vaginosis.
  • Heavy, foul-smelling discharge with pain during intercourse, abnormal uterine bleeding, cramping or painful menstruation, fever, nausea, and vomiting are symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease. (*Note - with fever or vomiting, this is a medical emergency.)
  • Yellow discharge, along with dryness of the vagina, burning, and itching of the vagina, pain during sex, vulvar itching, spotting or bleeding indicates vaginal atrophy.

SLIDESHOW

Pelvic Pain: What's Causing Your Pelvic Pain? See Slideshow

What are the signs of abnormal vaginal discharge?

If you notice vaginal discharge with the following signs and symptoms, you should immediately consult a physician because it may indicate a problem.

  • Itching of the vulva, vaginal opening, or labia
  • Redness, burning, soreness, or swelling of the vulvar skin
  • Change in color of vaginal discharge such as grayish or greenish-yellow discharge
  • Change in texture such as foamy or looking like cottage cheese
  • Unpleasant odor
  • Bleeding or spotting that is not during the menstrual period
  • Pain with intercourse or urination
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain

What is the purpose of vaginal discharge?

Normal vaginal discharge has several purposes, including:

  • Clean and moisten the vagina
  • Help prevent and fight infections
  • Carry away dead cells and bacteria

When to seek medical help

If you notice any irregularity in your vaginal discharge, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible. Additionally, look out for the following symptoms.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 9/8/2022
References
WebMD: "Vaginal Discharge: What’s Abnormal?"

UpToDate: "Patient education: Vaginal discharge in adult women (Beyond the Basics)"

KidsHealth: "Vaginal Discharge: What's Normal, What's Not"