What is vaginal discharge?

Your vagina and cervix contain glands that produce a mucus called vaginal discharge. Reasons for excess vaginal discharge include taking antibiotics, being pregnant, diabetes, birth controll pills, stress, as well as infections such as yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
Your vagina and cervix contain glands that produce a mucus called vaginal discharge. Reasons for excess vaginal discharge include taking antibiotics, being pregnant, diabetes, birth control pills, stress, as well as infections such as yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.

Your vagina and cervix contain glands that produce a mucus called vaginal discharge. The color of the mucus may turn white or yellow when it is exposed to air. Women often produce varying mucus levels during their menstrual cycle, leading to higher levels of vaginal discharge. 

Other factors that can increase your amount of vaginal discharge include:

Infections or other disorders in your body can cause you to produce different types of vaginal discharge. The discharge may also be accompanied by other symptoms that are caused by specific medical issues.

Signs of vaginal discharge

Your vaginal discharge may vary in color if it is caused by an underlying health condition. The secretions can also vary in texture  and be:

  • Thick
  • Pasty
  • Cloudy
  • Bloody

Your vaginal discharge may appear yellow, brown, gray, or green. Other symptoms that might be present with your secretions include:

Causes of vaginal discharge

There are various reasons why you might produce more vaginal discharge. Any disruption in your vaginal pH can cause an imbalance in the levels of bacteria in your vagina that maintain a healthy environment. Factors that could cause this to happen include:

Excess vaginal discharge can also happen because of an infection. Below are some conditions that could cause you to produce unusual or larger quantities of vaginal discharge.

Yeast infection

Vaginal candidiasis, often called a yeast infection, results from an infection caused by a fungus called Candida. These organisms are always present on your body’s skin and in places like your mouth, stomach, vagina, and throat. They typically do not cause any issues. However, they can multiply inside your vagina if something disrupts its normal environment.

The symptoms of a yeast infection can include: 

  • Soreness
  • Itching
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Pain when urinating
  • Discomfort during sex

Most yeast infections are mild. However, you may experience more serious infections that can lead to swelling and even cracks in your vaginal walls. If you experience severe symptoms of a yeast infection, you should see a medical professional for treatment. 

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is one of the primary reasons that you may produce a lot of vaginal discharge. It occurs when the bacteria in your vagina are imbalanced. Unusual secretions caused by bacterial vaginosis typically have a fishy order. You may have the condition and never experience any symptoms {F1000 Research: “Bacterial vaginosis.”}. 

Women often contract bacterial vaginosis through sexual contact. However, you can develop the condition without having sex. Using an intrauterine device (a birth control device that is inserted into your uterus, also called an IUD) can make you more likely to develop bacterial vaginosis. 

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) passed through vaginal sex. The disease is caused by Trichomonas vaginalis, a parasite. If you have trichomoniasis, you may experience symptoms like:

  • Vaginal discharge with a strong smell
  • Vaginal discharge that is green, white, or yellow
  • Discomfort while urinating
  • Itching and irritation in the vagina

You may not develop symptoms after contracting trichomoniasis. However, the infection can cause inflammation that makes you more vulnerable to contracting HIV or other STDs

If you are pregnant and become infected with trichomoniasis, you are at an increased risk of having a premature baby. Your infants may also have a lower birth weight.

QUESTION

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

Diagnosing vaginal discharge

Unusual vaginal discharge may go away without prescription treatment. For example, if you have previously experienced a yeast infection and develop one again, you can treat it yourself with an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. In this case, you do not need to visit a doctor unless the medication does not resolve your yeast infection.

Your doctor can help you identify the root cause of any unusual or excess vaginal discharge that appears to be chronic. They will typically start by asking questions about your medical history and how long you have had your current symptoms. From there, they will likely do a pelvic exam, a physical examination of your vagina and pelvic area. 

Depending on what your doctor finds, they may take samples from your vagina for further examination. They will likely send the specimens out to a lab to determine if you have a sexually transmitted disease or another infection.

Treatments for vaginal discharge

If your excess vaginal discharge is caused by an infection, your doctor may prescribe medication or direct you to try an over-the-counter (OTC) remedy. They may also recommend other changes or treatments, including:

  • Using a non-allergenic soap (one that will not cause allergies) to clean your vaginal area
  • Not using soap to clean your vaginal area 
  • Changing your underwear more often
  • Showering at least once per day
  • Taking a warm sitz bath (sitting in the bath with enough water to cover only your genitals and rectal area)
  • Using ice packs on your genitals
  • Improving your vaginal hygiene
  • Applying a corticosteroid cream
  • Taking antihistamines or other oral medications

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Medically Reviewed on 1/12/2021
References
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Trichomoniasis - CDC Fact Sheet."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Vaginal Candidiasis."

F1000 Research: "Bacterial vaginosis."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Vaginal Discharge."

MedlinePlus: "Vaginal itching and discharge – adult and adolescent."

Merck Manual Professional Version: "Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)."

Merck Manual Consumer Version: "Vaginal Discharge."

Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego: "Vaginal Discharge: What’s Normal, What’s Not."