Discussing some female bodily functions, especially related to vaginal discharge, makes many squeamish but it is very important to know what is abnormal versus normal especially for those of childbearing age. It is also important to watch for changes in the color and amount of your discharge.
First, what exactly is vaginal discharge? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "having some amount of vaginal discharge is normal, especially if you are of childbearing age. Glands in the cervix produce a clear mucus. These secretions may turn white or yellow when exposed to the air. These are normal variations."
The NIH also stated that "the amount of mucus produced by the cervical glands varies throughout the menstrual cycle. This is normal and depends on the amount of estrogen circulating in your body. It is also normal for the walls of the vagina to release some secretions. The amount depends on hormone levels in the body."
There are times when the amount of the discharge will increase especially in connection with ovulation, pregnancy, stress or sexual excitement.
Vaginal discharge is normal. However, there are instances when the discharge may change color, shape or odor. The changes could be the result of an infection in which case you should contact your health care professional.
You should see your health care professional immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:
• Strong odor
• Pain with sexual intercourse
• More discharge than usual
• Pain in the pelvic (lower belly) area
• Thick, white discharge
• Itching or pain around the vagina
• Green or yellow discharge
There are some easy home care tips to use before you meet with your health care professional:
• Wear clean cotton underwear
• Stop use spermicides
• Eat yogurt with live cultures or take Lactobacillus acidophilus tablets when on antibiotics to avoid a yeast infection
• Do not douche or use feminine sprays
• Use a pad instead of a tampon
• Avoid wear tight-fitting pants
Some abnormal discharges may indicate that you could have vaginitis. Vaginitis is the inflammation or infection of the vagina. One of the most common types of vaginitis is the dreaded yeast infection.
According to the Cleveland Clinic the types of vaginitis include:
• Chlamydia vaginitis
• Bacterial vaginosis
• Atrophic vaginitis
• Trichomoniasis vaginitis (a sexually transmitted infection)
• Non-infectious vaginitis
• Viral vaginitis
• Candida or "yeast" vaginitis
Medication and over-the-counter medications can cure most forms of vaginitis. However, it is crucial to determine which form of vaginitis you may have contacted. Do not self treat with over-the-counter products unless instructed to do so by your doctor.
"Vaginitis." – The Cleveland Clinic Web. 17 June 2013.
"Vaginal Discharge: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia." U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Web. 17 June 2013.
"Vaginal Discharge Fact Sheet." U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Web. 17 June 2013.
"Vaginal yeast infections fact sheet | womenshealth.gov ." womenshealth.gov. Web. 17 June 2013.
"Vaginal Discharge." National Institutes of Health. Web. 17 June 2013.
Reviewed June 18, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith