WHAT EXACTLY IS VAGINAL DISCHARGE?
Vaginal discharge is a clear, white or off-white fluid that comes out of your vagina. You may see it on your underwear, or the toilet paper (when wiping after you urinate). Glands in your vagina and cervix produce this fluid. Vaginal discharge is also called "mucus", "cervical mucus", "vaginal fluid" or "vaginal secretions".
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF VAGINAL DISCHARGE?
This fluid flows out of your vagina every day, and is actually a sign that your vagina is healthy! Your vagina is very resourceful, as it has an amazing ability to “self-clean! (much better than any self-cleaning oven!). The discharge that comes from your vagina is your vagina's way of keeping itself healthy and clean, by carrying out old cells, as well as to keep itself lubricated and free from infection.
The amount, texture, color and scent of discharge or mucus produced by the cervical glands varies throughout the menstrual cycle, and depends on hormone levels in your body.
DO ALL WOMEN HAVE DISCHARGE?
Yes, all women experience some amount of vaginal discharge. Some women have a little discharge occasionally, while other women experience significant discharge every day.
IS IT NORMAL TO HAVE CHANGES IN DISCHARGE?
Your "normal" discharge might change many times throughout your menstrual cycle, as well as throughout your life. Variations are normal and expected, and can even help predict what stage of your cycle you are in (for example, discharge can be thicker and greater in volume during ovulation). You will also have more discharge when you are sexually excited (your vagina is self-lubricating).
It is important to know that there are some changes in vaginal discharge that may be a sign of a vaginal infection.
WHAT DOES NORMAL DISCHARGE LOOK LIKE?
Color: Clear or whitish discharge (may be yellowish when dried)
Scent: Mild scent or none at all
Texture: Can vary from "paste" like and somewhat sticky to clear and stretchy, depending on where you are in your cycle and whether you are aroused
Volume: Can vary from very little to quite a lot (particularly when ovulating or aroused)
WHAT ARE SIGNS OF POSSIBLE INFECTION?
Once you know your body, and what your unique "normal" vaginal discharge looks like, you can determine when you may have abnormal discharge.
Change in Color: green, yellow or gray
Change in Scent: has a bad or strong odor
Change in Texture: looks like cottage cheese or foamy
Other changes: any pelvic pain or discharge that causes itching, swelling, burning or soreness
WHAT CAN CAUSE NORMAL CHANGES?
The Cleveland Clinic offers reasons that may cause changes in the appearance or consistency of your vaginal discharge include:
- Your menstrual cycle
- Emotional stress
- Any prescribed or over-the-counter medications you take including hormones such as in the Pill
- Sexual excitement
- Your diet
Your body's functions (including menstrual cycle) are regulated by hormones, and concurrently, your body is interacting "interdependently" with its surrounding environment. This interdependence means that changes in your immediate environment may disrupt the delicate -- yet relatively stable -- hormonal balances within your body.
A new medication or excessive stress can trigger changes in your body. These changes can lead to subtle differences in your bodily functions, and in turn may lead to new noticeable symptoms (including variations in vaginal discharge). Just knowing your body -- know what is your "normal" -- can help you distinguish a normal fluctuation versus a change that may need to be medically evaluated.