Vaginal discharge is a common complaint among women. Vaginal secretions flow out of the vagina every day helping to keep your vagina healthy and clean. Normal vaginal discharge is a fluid that is produced by the glands in the lining of the vagina and the cervix.
It is usually clear or milky white with no odor. Normal vaginal discharge is thicker at different points in the menstrual cycle (e.g, during ovulation and/or sexual arousal).
An increase in the amount of vaginal discharge, abnormal odor, irregular consistency of the fluid, and/or pain, itching, or burning can all be signs of an infection or other, more serious, disorders. Abnormal vaginal discharge is very common and can often be identified by these main symptoms: excessive vaginal discharge, changes in discharge color and odor, itching, irritation, soreness or burning sensation of vagina and vulva.
An abnormal discharge is often characterized by an increase in the amount and/or thickness of discharge (e.g., white and clumpy like cottage cheese), discharge color (e.g., grayish, greenish, yellowish, or blood-tinged). Mucus and pus may be present in the discharge or smell (e.g, frothy, fishy).
Abnormal discharge that causes inflammation of the vagina is referred to as vaginitis and often results from an infection or irritation by a chemical. Bacterial vaginosis, however, can cause a change in appearance and odor.
With this bacterium, normal vaginal discharge may turn into a white, gray, or yellowish cloudy discharge with a fishy odor. In contrast, a thick, white, and clumpy discharge that is accompanied by itching is generally caused by candidiasis, a yeast infection.
Trichomoniasis (a sexuallt transmitted disease) changes vaginal discharge to a heavy, greenish yellow, frothy discharge that may have a bad odor. Other sexually transmitted diseases including gonorrhea, chlamydia can change the color of vaginal discharge to a greenish or yellowish color.
It’s also important to note that cancer of the vagina, cervix, or lining of the uterus may cause a blood-tinged, watery vaginal discharge.
It’s best to consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment of abnormal vaginal discharge. Doctors will generally perform a pelvic examination and also examine a sample of the discharge using a microscope. Once the cause of the irregular vaginal discharge is identified, the doctor can suggest a course of action.
Oral antibiotics or antibiotic vaginal creams will likely be prescribed if the cause of abnormal vaginal secretion is a bacterial infection. However, a specific oral drug or vaginal preparations will be prescribed if your abnormal vaginal discharge is due to a type of yeast infection or trichomonad.
If the irregular discharge is caused by a tumor, then a biopsy of the cervix or vagina may be necessary.
Identify Your Vaginal Discharge. Web. www.womenhealthzone.com. Accessed 6 Feb. 2012.
Vaginal Discharge Symptoms. Web. www.medicinenet.com. Accessed 6 Feb. 2012. http://www.medicinenet.com/vaginal_discharge/symptoms.htm
Vaginal Infections and Discharge FAQs. Web. www.wdxcyber.com. Accessed 6 Feb. 2012. http://www.wdxcyber.com/mvagina.htm#mv04
Reviewed February 7, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith