While it may seem frightening, vaginal discharge is actually a normal, healthy biological occurrence within the female body. Usually, it’s the simple byproduct of a menstrual cycle or a recent hygiene exercise. However, there are some circumstances in which anomalous discharge may be indicating the presence of a condition which needs swift treatment.
There are numerous conditions which result in different kinds of vaginal discharge. Of course, it’s critical for all women to understand when discharge is a simple matter of biology versus a warning sign of something else. In this post, we’ll outline when vaginal discharge is a cause for concern, how to recognize it and what to look for.
Vaginal Discharge: Why is it Helpful?
Vaginal discharge serves an essential function within the body. The vagina and cervix develop fluids that flush away dead cells and harmful bacteria, which helps to keep the body clean and resisting infection.
Therefore, a clear or white discharge is perfectly normal, and shouldn’t be a source of alarm in most cases. Of course, there will be more discharge during ovulation, breastfeeding or sexual arousal.
Causes of Abnormal Discharge
Certain variables like frequency, consistency, color and odor play a role in most abnormal discharges. When any of these variables are a stark contrast to what you usually experience, it’s an abnormal discharge.
These may be the consequences of changes in body chemistry, including, but not limited to the following:
- Prescription drug use
- Birth control
- Pelvic inflammation
- Yeast infections
- Cervical cancer
- STDs or STIs
Abnormal Discharge: Identifying Factors
There are a few ways to discern whether or not vaginal discharge is abnormal.
In seeking to determine the cause of the discharge, doctors will attempt to learn as much information about you as possible. To assist the doctor in determining the source of the discharge, be sure to pay attention to the following details about your discharge:
- How long has the discharge been occurring?
- What color is the discharge?
- Is there a distinct smell?
- Are there any accompanying sensations (pain, itching, or burning)?
- Are you in any pain or discomfort while urinating or during sex?
- How do you clean your genital area?
Usually, any sudden, dramatic changes in the frequency, odor or color/consistency of vaginal discharge should be a cause for concern. The color and consistency are generally more distinct, and can indicate the underlying cause of the vaginal discharge:
What Color are Abnormal Discharges, and What do They Mean?
Thick, white: Usually, a thick, white discharge indicates the presence of a yeast infection. More often than not, an itchiness or soreness accompanies this discharge. In addition, it may evolve into more severe pain or a burning sensation during sex or urination.
Yellow: It’s very possible that cloudy, yellow discharge is from gonorrhea, an STD. In addition to this discharge, there may also be sporadic bleeding, as well as incontinence.
If you begin to notice a yellow discharge, be sure to get tested immediately.
Yellow/greenish: A yellow or green discharge with a frothy quality is most often an indicator of trichomoniasis, a common STD that may cause pain and itching during urination.
Pink: Also known as lochia, a pink discharge is normal for women who have recently given birth. This is the result of uterine lining shedding, and the discharge may be mixed with blood. This may continue for 4 to 6 weeks after birth.
Gray/Yellow: A gray/yellow discharge with a fishy odor is generally indicative of bacterial vaginosis. While not exactly an STD, bacterial vaginosis is more likely for women who engage multiple sexual partners, or are pregnant. However, bacterial vaginosis is still difficult to detect at times. Often, symptoms come and go completely unnoticed.
Brown: In some cases, there is residual blood from the most recent period. As routine, clear discharges take place, they may wash away this residual blood, thus creating a brown color. Admittedly, this isn’t cause for significant concern. More often than not, it simply means that the menstrual cycle is irregular. In other cases, this may indicate cervical or endometrial cancer. If you begin to notice a consistent brown discharge, contact your gynecologist immediately.
There is some overlap between discharge triggers, meaning that it can be impossible to diagnose the precise reason for the discharge based entirely on the color. If you’re experiencing a vaginal discharge, contact Stony Brook Women’s Health to set up an appointment.
As specific vaginal discharges are symptomatic of certain conditions, treatments are largely determined by that condition. For the previous discharges and their respective conditions, treatments may include antifungal medication, topical antibiotics or other pills.
Vaginal Discharge Prevention
To prevent abnormal vaginal discharge and potential discomfort:
First, wear cotton underwear. This material will be less irritating. Therefore, it will be more conducive to recovery and/or prevention.
Wear loose-fitting clothing. Clothing that constricts the lower body is likely to cause irritation, and should be avoided.
Directly apply soaps to the genitals while bathing. Instead, cleanse with soapy water and dry with a clean towel. Additionally, avoid soaps with heavy fragrance, or products for other parts of the body.
Douche. Although it has a purpose and a reputation of cleaning the vagina, it actually removes infection-fighting bacteria. Unfortunately, it can replace it with harmful bacteria. Also, it affects the natural acidity of the vagina.
Conclusion – Stony Brook Women’s Health
Every woman’s body chemistry operates in its own unique way. Therefore, it’s impossible to confidently make statements about body conditions and their symptoms with total, 100% conviction.
Vaginal discharges are beneficial for learning about the female anatomy and its exceptional biological conditions. However, speaking with a gynecologist is essential in order to accurately determine the source of the condition. At Stony Brook Women’s Health, our professional staff performs tests that enable us to determine the precise reason for the discharge with medical certainty. Contact us to schedule a routine appointment today.