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Vaginal Discharge: What’s Abnormal, Colors, Infections & Treatment

Vaginal discharge refers to the fluid or mucus that emanates from the vagina. Typically, this discharge comprises vaginal skin cells, bacteria, mucus and fluids produced by the vagina and cervix. Vaginal discharge is a common concern for women and often prompts them to seek medical advice. While a certain amount of vaginal discharge is considered normal, it becomes concerning when accompanied by itching, burning, or other discomforting symptoms.

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Before understanding the intricacies of vaginal discharge, it’s essential to grasp the fundamentals of female reproductive anatomy. Vaginal discharge is generally inconspicuous until it exits the vagina, which serves as the conduit from the uterus to the external body. At the upper end (inside) of the vagina resides the cervix, while the lower end (outside) leads to the vulva and labia. The vulva is the skin surrounding the vaginal opening. Numerous glands within the cervix and vagina continually produce secretions and mucus to maintain the vaginal walls well-lubricated and clean. This mucus plays a crucial role in vaginal cleanliness and is home to both beneficial and harmful bacteria. When a specific type of bacteria over proliferates, infections can ensue.

Normal Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge is primarily a product of the cells lining the vagina and cervix, influenced by the female hormone estrogen. Menopausal women typically experience minimal vaginal discharge due to lower estrogen levels. In reproductive age women, a daily output of roughly one-half to one teaspoon (2 to 5 mL) of white or clear, thin, mucus-like, mostly odorless vaginal discharge is considered normal. Its consistency can resemble that of egg whites, though the amount and texture may vary between individuals and throughout the menstrual cycle. Some individuals may produce more discharge than others. Occasionally, vaginal discharge may carry an odor, but it should not be overpowering or unpleasant. Factors such as hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, ovulation, or the use of hormonal birth control methods can lead to heightened discharge. Additionally, sexual arousal can trigger increased production from vulvar glands.

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  • Yellow, Grey, or Green: Yellow vaginal discharge, Grey or Green colors may indicate a bacterial or sexually transmitted infection (STI).
  • Pink: Pink vaginal discharge is often associated with premenstrual spotting or early pregnancy implantation bleeding. Some individuals may experience spotting after ovulation or sexual intercourse due to minor vaginal irritation.
  • Brown or Red: Brown vaginal discharge or red discharge is typically linked to irregular menstruation or implantation bleeding. If experienced outside of one’s period, it may indicate an issue.
  • Clear or White vaginal discharge: Normal vaginal discharge is typically clear, white, or off-white. Any deviation in color, especially if accompanied by itching or discomfort, could signal a yeast infection or another concern. Consult a healthcare provider for an assessment.

Causes of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

Various factors can disrupt the pH balance of a healthy vagina, including douching, feminine hygiene products, specific soaps or bubble baths, and the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Pregnant women and those with diabetes are at higher risk of infections. Common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge include:

  • Vaginal Infections (yeast, bacterial, trichomonas, and sexually transmitted infections).
  • Body’s Reaction to Foreign Bodies or Irritants (such as forgotten tampons, condoms, or allergic reactions to detergents, soaps, lubricants, or materials used in sex toys).
  • Menopausal Changes Resulting in Vaginal Dryness (atrophic vaginitis).
  • Uterine Infections (e.g., pelvic inflammatory disease).
  • Uterine or Cervical Cancer (may manifest as foul-smelling blood-stained discharge).
  • Vaginal and Vulval Skin Disorders (leading to abnormal discharge).

When to Seek Medical Attention

A change in vaginal discharge color, consistency, or odor may indicate an infection, warranting evaluation by a healthcare provider. Following are the Signs to be aware of:

  • Thick, white vaginal discharge.
  • Altered appearance of usual discharge.
  • Vulvar itching or irritation.
  • Redness, burning, soreness, swelling, blisters, bumps, or sores on the vulvar skin.
  • Foamy or greenish-yellow discharge.
  • Foul odor (e.g., Fishy odor of bacterial vaginosis).
  • Blood-tinged vaginal discharge.
  • Pain during intercourse or urination.
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain.

Potential Causes of Infective Vaginal Discharges

Several infections can lead to changes in vaginal discharge or unpleasant odors, often transmitted through sexual contact:

  • Yeast Infection: Characterized by overgrowth of the Candida fungus, resulting in thick, white, cottage cheese-like discharge, itching, and discomfort.
  • Trichomoniasis or “Trich”: A sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite, leading to green, yellow, or gray, bubbly or frothy discharge.
  • Bacterial Vaginosis (BV): Occurs when certain bacteria overpopulate the vagina, causing white or gray, foul-smelling, fishy discharge.
  • Gonorrhea and Chlamydia: Common sexually transmitted infections that can cause cloudy, yellow, or green vaginal discharge if left untreated, potentially leading to complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease and urinary infections.

Examination for Vaginal Discharge

Determining whether vaginal discharge is normal or abnormal typically requires a physical examination and laboratory testing of a vaginal specimen. Self-diagnosis and home treatment should be avoided, as they can complicate accurate diagnosis. Relying on internet or social media recommendations is also discouraged. Before the examination, your healthcare provider may inquire about:

  • Any pain in your back, abdomen, or pelvis.
  • Recent changes in sexual partners.
  • Menstrual cycle history.
  • Medication usage (including prescription, herbal, and nonprescription drugs).
  • Use of pads, tampons, douches, feminine hygiene products, lubricants, pH-altering treatments, or boric acid.
  • Diabetes or other chronic illnesses.
  • Experiences of pain during urination or sexual activity.

During the examination, the healthcare provider will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the outer genital area and perform an internal examination. A sample of the discharge will be collected for infection testing, with attention to measuring its pH, as bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis can elevate pH levels.

High-Risk Factors for Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

Certain practices and characteristics increase the likelihood of developing abnormal vaginal discharge, such as individuals who:

  • Use douches.
  • Regularly use pantyliners.
  • Employ “feminine hygiene” sprays, powders, or rinses.
  • Engage in bubble baths or use scented bath products.
  • Wear tight or synthetic clothing.
  • have unprotected sex or have multiple sexual partners.
  • Have untreated or poorly managed diabetes.
  • Use birth control pills.
  • Are prescribed antibiotics.
  • Have HIV infection or a compromised immune system.

Healthier Practices to Prevent Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

To reduce the risk of vaginal infections and abnormal discharge, consider the following practices:

  • Regularly shower or bathe using mild soap or water; avoid using bubble bath.
  • Refrain from using vaginal sprays and scented products.
  • Use plain white toilet tissue.
  • Always wipe from front to back after visiting the bathroom.
  • Wash hands before touching the vaginal area.
  • Use unscented non-soap cleanser with warm (not hot) water and the hand (not a washcloth) to cleanse the genitalia.
  • Urinate after intercourse to help prevent urinary tract infections.
  • Use unscented tampons, sanitary pads, and liners; change them every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Remove tampons before bedtime and use pads instead.
  • Avoid douching or using feminine hygiene products; consult a healthcare provider if odor or discharge is bothersome.
  • Opt for cotton or cotton-lined undergarments for better moisture absorption; avoid tight-fitting synthetic clothing, leggings, tights, or pants that inhibit airflow.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle through proper nutrition, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners and use condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
  • Adhere to prescribed medication regimens, and if recommended by a healthcare provider, lose weight if weight-related issues contribute to infections.
  • Notify sexual partners if you have a sexually transmitted infection for proper evaluation and treatment.

Vaginal Discharge Treatment

Treatment for abnormal vaginal discharge varies based on the underlying cause. Diagnosis and treatment should ideally follow a physical examination and rapid bedside laboratory tests. In some cases, treatment may be delayed until further test results are available. It’s crucial to note that not all vaginal symptoms stem from infections.

If treatment is prescribed by a clinician, it’s essential to understand the test results and the type of infection present. Sexual partners of individuals with sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis, should also seek evaluation and treatment. In contrast, for infections like yeast or bacterial vaginosis, sexual partners typically do not require treatment.

It is advisable to abstain from intercourse until treatment is completed. While abnormal vaginal discharge is treatable, it can recur, and in such cases, consultation with a healthcare provider is essential for potential extended treatment.

Treatment for Specific Infections:

  • Yeast Infections: Typically treated with antifungal medications administered vaginally. Individuals who experience frequent yeast infections may be advised to use preventive treatment alongside antifungal medication.
  • Bacterial Vaginosis: Treated with oral/vaginal antibiotics.
  • Trichomoniasis: Usually managed with oral antibiotics.
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): These can be more challenging to treat and are easily transmitted. All sexual partners should be informed and treated simultaneously, and sexual activity should be avoided until both you and your partner are infection-free.

Frequently Asked Questions about Vaginal Discharge


Should I douche to eliminate vaginal discharge?

No, douching should not be used to eliminate vaginal discharge. Douching can disrupt the body’s natural balance of organisms and may lead to infections. Normal vaginal discharge is a natural and healthy process, and it is not unclean or harmful. It serves to maintain vaginal cleanliness and health by removing fluids and old cells.

Should my sexual partner receive treatment?

In some cases, it may be necessary for your sexual partner to receive treatment. If you are sexually active, consult with your healthcare provider for guidance. Depending on the situation, it may be advisable to avoid sexual intercourse or use condoms until both you and your partner have been treated.

Why do vaginal infections occur?

Healthcare providers do not have a complete understanding of all the factors contributing to vaginal infections. Some types of infections can be transmitted through sexual contact, increasing the risk of infection. Factors that may elevate the risk of infections include:

Can I have multiple vaginal infections simultaneously?

Yes, it is possible to have more than one type of infection concurrently.

Can I self-treat?

While many women may prefer to avoid visiting a healthcare provider, self-treatment can delay an accurate diagnosis, incur unnecessary costs, or exacerbate symptoms. In most cases, a physical examination should precede any treatment. Douching or using boric acid vaginal capsules should be avoided, as they can worsen discharge and potentially spread infections to the uterus and pelvis.

Why do I experience daily vaginal discharge?

Daily vaginal discharge is normal and serves as your body’s natural mechanism for maintaining vaginal cleanliness and health. It cannot be prevented, as it represents the body’s way of eliminating fluid and old cells. If you are concerned about excessive discharge, consider using a panty liner to help manage it.

How does vaginal discharge change during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, it is normal to experience an increase in the volume of vaginal discharge. This change is designed to prevent infections from ascending into the uterus. Elevated levels of progesterone can also contribute to increased discharge. If you notice any unusual changes in vaginal discharge during pregnancy, consult your prenatal care provider for guidance.

Why does my vaginal discharge have a smell?

An unpleasant or strong “fishy” odor associated with vaginal discharge could indicate an infection. A foul-smelling discharge may indicate a bacterial infection or neglected foreign body such as a tampon.


Vaginal discharge, a clear, white, or off-white fluid originating from the vagina, is a natural and regular bodily process. It consists mainly of cells, gland secretions, and bacteria, serving to cleanse and lubricate the vagina while combating harmful bacteria and infections. While variations in discharge are common, changes in color, texture, smell, or volume may signify underlying issues. Most causes of abnormal vaginal discharge are treatable, and an annual visit to a healthcare provider is essential for sexually active individuals. Finally, observing vaginal hygiene and few lifestyle adjustments go a long way in prevention of abnormal vaginal discharge.


Dr Sobia Mohyuddin

MCPS, FCPS, MRCOG, Consultant Obstetrics & Gynaecology

Doctor Sobia Mohyuddin is a highly skilled and experienced Obstetrician and Gynecologist, with 25 years of training and experience in renowned, large institutions. She holds the position of Associate Professor and Fellow at the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan. She is also a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (UK).