Some Vaginal Discharge Could Signal a Problem

Health Topics

Vaginal discharge is a normal part of the workings of a woman’s body. But, some discharge can be a cause for concern.

Glands in the vagina and the cervix make small amounts of a fluid that flows out of the vagina every day. The fluid carries old cells out of the vagina to keep it healthy and clean.

A regular discharge like this should be clear or slightly milky and does not have a bad smell.

Sometimes, the discharge can be heavier or change color slightly while a woman is ovulating, pregnant, breastfeeding or sexually aroused. 

Changes in the color or smell of discharge, itching, burning, or other irritation all should be causes of concern.

Some of the most common vaginal issues, and their symptoms are:

  • Bacterial vaginosis – It’s not clear why some women get this bacterial condition, but it is not likely from a sexual partner. Symptoms include:
    • Fishy odor that is strongest after sexual intercourse and after washing with soap
    • Itching or burning
    • Redness and swelling of the vagina and vulva
    • White, gray, or yellow discharge
  • Trichomoniasis – This is caused by a Trichomonas vaginalis. A woman can be infected for a long time with no signs. It is usually caught through unprotected sexual intercourse. Symptoms include:
    • Most common after menstrual period
    • Pain and itching while urinating
    • Unpleasant odor
    • Water, yellowish 
  • Yeast infection  – Small amounts of yeast are frequently found in a healthy vagina, but too much yeast can cause a yeast infection. Though a yeast infection can be the result of sexual intercourse, that isn’t likely. Women most commonly get yeast infections when they are using antibiotics, are pregnant, have diabetes, or are hot and sweaty for a long time. Symptoms include:
    • Intense itching
    • Painful sexual intercourse
    • Swelling and pain around the vulva
    • White, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge

Two sexually transmitted infections also can cause vaginal discharge – chlamydia and gonorrhea. Both are infections of the cervix.

Sometimes, the only symptom of chlamydia and gonorrhea are an increase in vaginal discharge. Antibiotic shots or pills can be used to treat both conditions.

If you notice vaginal discharge that is out of the ordinary, contact your doctor’s office to decide what next step to take to treat the issue.

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