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Green Vaginal Discharge: What Does It Say About Your Health?

Discharge that is considered normal is usually clear or white and has either no odor or a mild smell. Green discharge is considered abnormal and usually indicates infection, especially when accompanied by a foul smell.

What is green discharge?

You may experience a whole range of different colors of vaginal discharge, some considered normal, and some abnormal.

Before and after your period, discharge may appear orange, brick red, or brown. During the rest of the cycle , discharge is usually clear, white, cream-colored, or possibly a very pale yellow.

If it changes in color to bright yellow, yellow-green, or green discharge, it’s time to evaluate your health.

In most cases, green vaginal discharge is a sign of infection. It occurs as a result of an inflammatory response to pathogens. At the onset of an infection, you may see thin, yellow discharge. It then progresses to a yellowish-green discharge with a thicker, mucus-like consistency, and finally to a bright, or lime-green discharge that is very thick and usually has an unpleasant odor.

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Because there are so many types of vaginal discharge, it’s important to take multiple factors into account — not just color. The consistency and smell of your discharge, as well as associated symptoms like itching, burning, and swelling, will also help determine if you have an infection. 

If you have any doubts or think you might have an infection, make an appointment with your health care provider. 

What can cause green discharge?

Infection is the most common cause of green vaginal discharge. There are many different types of infections that can affect the vagina and result in abnormal discharge. The following are the most common causes of green discharge from the vagina.

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis, or “trich,” is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. It’s the most common cause of greenish discharge, and it’s a very treatable condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), trichomoniasis is the most common curable STI. About 3.7 million people have the infection in the United States. 

Only 30 percent of people infected by trichomoniasis have signs and symptoms. The rest are asymptomatic. It’s unclear why some people get symptoms and others do not. People affected by symptoms of trich may experience the following:

  • Vaginal discharge that can be yellow or green, with a foul smell
  • Itching, burning, redness, or soreness of the genitals
  • Painful urination
  • Painful sex

If you have one or more of these symptoms, make an appointment with your health care provider. It’s not possible to diagnose trichomoniasis based on symptoms alone. Laboratory tests are necessary to confirm the infection. Trich is treated with antibiotics.

Make sure to inform and treat your sexual partner(s) if you have been diagnosed with trich, as the infection is often asymptomatic.

Other STIs

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are two other treatable sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can cause green discharge. Like trich, these infections are often asymptomatic.

When they occur, symptoms of chlamydia or gonorrhea often include:

  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Yellow or yellow-green discharge
  • Painful urination
  • Painful intercourse
  • Pelvic pain
  • Bleeding between periods

Left untreated, these infections can spread to the uterus, uterine tubes (salpingitis), and ovaries (oophoritis) as a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Left untreated, PID can cause permanent damage to the reproductive organs and lead to infertility or increased chances of ectopic pregnancy.

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition caused by an imbalance in “good” and “bad” bacteria in the vagina. BV is not an STI, and often the cause of the infection is an increased number of Gardnerella vaginialis and other bacteria. Factors that may increase the risk of developing BV include having a new sexual partner, having multiple sexual partners, douching, smoking, and a general lack of “good” bacteria.

Common symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include:

Having BV increases your risk of contracting STIs. If you suspect you may have BV, speak with your health care provider as soon as possible. 

What does green discharge during pregnancy mean?

Green vaginal discharge during pregnancy is a sign that you need to see a health care provider. This is considered abnormal discharge, and during pregnancy you need to be extra-cautious.

If you experience green discharge while pregnant, make an appointment with your health care provider immediately. Certain infections that cause green discharge pose threats to the pregnancy and the baby.

For example, pregnant people with trichomoniasis are more likely to have preterm deliveries and babies with lower-than-average birth weights.

Any infection that is present during pregnancy needs immediate treatment.

What should I do if I notice green discharge?

If you notice green discharge, note any other changes in your discharge, including the amount, consistency, and smell. Green smelly discharge is almost a sure sign of infection.

Contact your health care provider right away if you have green discharge, and make sure to include any other information you have gathered about changes in your vaginal discharge.

How is green vaginal discharge treated?

In most cases, green discharge indicates infection, and infections are treated with antibiotics. Laboratory tests will confirm what kind of infection you have (STI, bacterial vaginosis, or something else).

Depending on the type of infection, your health care provider will prescribe antibiotics that should clear it up within a few weeks.

Questions that your health care provider may ask you about green vaginal discharge

You might feel comfortable talking to your health care provider about vaginal discharge. They’ve had plenty of conversations with patients about normal and abnormal vaginal discharge. Although you might feel awkward bringing it up to a health care provider, it’s just another way the body tells you when something is off.

Your health care provider may ask you the following questions about your discharge:

  • Have you noticed an increase in vaginal discharge recently?
  • What is the consistency of your vaginal discharge (thin, thick, chunky, mucus-like, etc.)?
  • Is your discharge constant or does it come and go?
  • When did the abnormal discharge begin?
  • Do you have burning, itching, pain, or any discomfort in or around the vagina?
  • Do you have multiple sexual partners?
  • Do you douche?
  • When were you last tested for STIs?
  • When was your last period?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • When was the last time you got a Pap smear?

Frequently asked questions on green vaginal discharge

If you experience green discharge, you’ll have questions. These are the most common questions asked about green vaginal discharge.

What STIs cause green discharge?

The most common causes of green discharge are the STIs trichomoniasis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. All three of these STIs are often asymptomatic, but when they do cause signs and symptoms, green discharge is one of them. These infections can be treated with antibiotics.

Why do I have smelly green discharge?

Smelly green discharge indicates an infection — usually either an STI like the ones mentioned above or a condition called bacterial vaginosis. The smell associated with vaginal infection is typically a foul or “fishy” smell.

Conclusion

Green vaginal discharge is abnormal. As soon as you notice green discharge, especially if it is frothy, clumpy, or mucus-like and has a bad odor, contact your health care provider. It may be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection or of bacterial vaginosis.

If you have an infection, your health care provider will start you on a course of antibiotics that should clear it up within a few weeks.

“STD Facts - Trichomoniasis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 Feb. 2020, www.cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/stdfact-trichomoniasis.htm.

“Chlamydia - STD Information from CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 Jan. 2017, www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/default.htm.

“STD Facts - Gonorrhea.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Jan. 2014, www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea.htm.

“STD Facts - Bacterial Vaginosis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Feb. 2020, www.cdc.gov/std/bv/stdfact-bacterial-vaginosis.htm.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Bacterial Vaginosis (Gardnerella Vaginitis).” Harvard Health, Mar. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/bacterial-vaginosis-gardnerella-vaginitis-a-to-z.

Editorial Staff. “Vaginal Discharge - Causes and Prevention.” Familydoctor.org, 30 July 2019, familydoctor.org/condition/vaginal-discharge/.

“Vaginal Discharge Guide: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options.” Drugs.com, 13 Jan. 2020, www.drugs.com/health-guide/vaginal-discharge.html.

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