Vaginal discharges are very normal occurrence for women, so its nothing to be worried about when you have some. There are only a few instances where you need to worry if your vaginal discharges are abnormal. This article will highlight such situations and what you can do about them.
Teenage girls usually start having vaginal discharges after their first period and it is expected for vaginal discharges to decrease immensely after menopause due to lower estrogen levels. Vaginal discharges are actually very helpful in maintaining a healthy female genital tract.
These discharges help to flush out harmful bacteria from the genital tract and prevent other harmful bacteria from ascending to the internal female reproductive organs. They also help keep the genital tract clean and moist to provide lubrication during sexual intercourse. It is the cells in the walls of the vagina and cervix that produces these discharges. You may experience different vaginal discharges at different times which may vary in colour, odour, volume and consistency.
Usually, you will tend to have more vaginal discharge during the ovulation stage of your menstrual cycle, during pregnancy and after delivery. Sexual arousal can also lead to an increased vaginal discharge. A normal vaginal discharge can be clear or whitish, and is usually odourless or may have just very mild smell (especially during menstruation) and can be thick or thin in consistency and sticky, which can make your underpants slightly stained.
Any vaginal discharge that smells very bad and associated with other symptoms like burning or itching should be considered as abnormal and you should visit your doctor to rule out an infection or other underlying conditions. Its important for you to take note of what is normal for you in terms of the volume of your regular vaginal discharge so that you can easily identify any abnormal vaginal discharge.
4 Common Causes
1. Bacteria Vaginosis – This is a bacteria infection of the vagina. Women with this infection will have abnormal vaginal discharge which has a characteristic fishy foul smell, and vaginal itching or burning sensation inside the vagina. Bacteria vaginosis can be treated easily with antibiotics, so don’t delay in seeing your doctor if you suspect you might have this infection.
2. Yeast infection – Yeast infection of the vagina can be caused by a fungus called Candida Albicans. This fungal infection is what is commonly called “Candidiasis” or “white”. Yeast infection can give you an abnormal whitish vaginal discharge which may smell bad and vaginal itching, burning or irritation. This infection can also be very easily treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams and tablets. See your doctor if you suspect you might be having this fungal infection.
3. Sexually Transmitted Infections – Sexually transmitted infections can also result in abnormal vaginal discharge. There are so many different types of sexually transmitted infections but trichomonas, gonorrhea, chlamydia and herpes are among the leading ones that usually result in abnormal vaginal discharge. They do not all have the same symptoms so its important that you visit your doctor if you have an abnormal vaginal discharge to rule out any sexually transmitted infections. These infections can be treated medically.
4. Cervical or Uterine Cancer – Though not very common, cervical and uterine cancer may be picked up early because of an abnormal vaginal discharge, in addition to other symptoms. Routine screening and hospital check up when you notice an abnormal vaginal discharge can help in diagnosing and effectively treating these cancers.
Types of Vaginal Discharge
As stated earlier, vaginal discharges can either be normal or abnormal, and the colour and odour of the discharge are mostly used to distinguish what is normal and what is abnormal.
- Clear discharge – A thick or thin clear vaginal discharge is considered normal. It can also be whitish and still be considered normal as long as there are no other symptoms like itching, burning or irritation in the vagina.
- Thick, White Discharge – A thick white vaginal discharge accompanied by symptoms like itching ,burning and irritation of the vagina is abnormal. It is due to a yeast infection and should be treated.
- Grayish White Discharge – A grayish white vaginal discharge is also an abnormal discharge which has a fishy smell and itching or burning sensation in the vagina. This is caused by bacteria vaginosis and can be treated.
- Yellow Discharge – A yellow vaginal discharge is an abnormal discharge which is most likely due to a sexually transmitted infection or bacteria infection. Get treated in the hospital if you have yellow vaginal discharges.
- Brown Discharge – A brown vaginal discharge is abnormal and signifies irregular menstrual periods or possible uterine or cervical cancer especially if it appears after menopause. Visit your doctor for proper evaluation of any brown discharges.
- Green Discharge – A greenish vaginal discharge is abnormal. It can be accompanied by genital itching ,painful urination and painful sex. This abnormal discharge can be due to a bacteria infection or sexually transmitted infection which you should treat at the hospital.
How You Can Prevent an Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Keeping the vaginal environment healthy is key to preventing abnormal vaginal discharges. Certain practices can destabilize the healthy vaginal environment and you should try to avoid them. Here are some tips to help you prevent abnormal vaginal discharges.
- Avoid douching of the vagina. Vaginal douching is when water or other liquids are introduced into the vagina to clean it. This practice is not safe because it leads to the destruction of some healthy microorganisms that help protect the vagina from infection.
- Avoid using foaming, scented soaps, pads and tampons around the vulva or inside the vagina. This is not necessary because you risk killing those healthy microorganisms that protect the vulva and vagina from infections. You can used normal water to keep that area clean and unscented pads and tampons can serve you just as well with lesser risks.
- Wear cotton underpants which can absorb moisture to help prevent against yeast infections.
- Be faithful to your partner, abstain from premarital sex or use proper protection if you must engage in sexual intercourse with new or multiple partners to prevent contacting sexually transmitted infections.
- Avoid over use or abuse of antibiotics. Take antibiotics only when prescribed by your doctor. Over use or abuse of antibiotics can also kill healthy microorganisms that help protect the vagina from infections.