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Normal Vaginal Discharge vs. Abnormal Discharge: What's the Difference?

You know that sticky goo that you frequently find in your panties? What is it? Why do we have it? When is it abnormal?
Normal vaginal discharge – approximate depiction of white cervical fluid

The vagina is a complicated and dynamic ecosystem. It sees a lot of bacteria, pH, and moisture. It’s sensitive to changes that come from outside of your body and from within. Fluid made by glands inside the vagina and cervix carries away dead cells and bacteria that help keep the vagina clean. This is called vaginal discharge. 

The amount of discharge is different for each woman It’s secretions from the vagina that are a sign that your lady part is doing her job. Exercise, birth control pills, and stress may also result in discharge.

However, sometimes women can notice a change in color, an increase in amount, or an abnormal odor in their vaginal discharge. Does this mean that an infection is present? 

Check out this informative article for extensive answers to your most common questions about normal and abnormal vaginal discharge.

How to check your vaginal discharge

Did you know that vaginal discharge checkup is as important as a breast exam? A self-exam can help you detect abnormal vaginal discharge earlier and start treatment sooner. 

Find a comfortable position. You can sit on the toilet, squat, or stand up and put one leg up on the toilet seat or bathtub edge. 

There are three ways to check your vaginal discharge:

  1. Before you pee, wipe the opening of the vagina with white toilet paper. Check the color, odor, and consistency of the mucus. 
  2. Take a look at the color and texture of the vaginal discharge on your underpants. 
  3. Clean your fingers and insert them into your vagina. Check the color and texture of the discharge on your fingers. 

To best feel the texture and consistency of the discharge, you should rub it and pull it between your thumb and index finger. Press your fingers together and slowly move them apart.

Write down everything about your discharge on a chart, on a daily basis. What’s the color and consistency? How does it smell? Also, keep in mind that some medication may interfere with your cervical fluids.

Remember, self-examining is always a smart idea but you should never skimp on your regular pelvic exams

What does normal vaginal discharge look like?

There are three things to look out for: the color of your vaginal discharge, its volume, and smell. 

Color and consistency

If you notice that your discharge is clear and watery, this is a sign of a normal vaginal discharge. This is completely normal and can happen after an exercise. 

If your discharge is clear, stretchy, like egg white, it’s a sign that you’re ovulating. Again, this is a normal discharge and you have nothing to worry about. 

Sometimes, you can notice a brown or bloody discharge. This is normal if it happens during or after your menstrual cycle. 

Volume

Your discharge will increase in volume in the days before ovulation. The fluid volume will decrease in the first or second day after ovulation. Your vagina might also produce more fluid when you’re aroused. 

Smell

An odorless or a mild but not unpleasant discharge is a sign of a normal vaginal discharge. The mild smell might be due to a mix with some urine or blood from your menstruation.

A woman with cramps and abnormal vaginal discharge

What is abnormal vaginal discharge?

None of the changes mentioned above is alarming. However, if you notice that the color, smell, or volume seems different than usual, you could be suffering from an infection or other condition. You should consult with your doctor, especially if you also have vaginal itching or burning.

Abnormal vaginal discharge colors

An abnormal discharge color can be a sign of a possible infection or even cancer. A different color is a sign of a different condition. 

  • Bloody or brown: this can be a sign of irregular menstrual cycles, or less often cervical or endometrial cancer. Other symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain. 
  • Yellow: this can be a sign of Gonorrhea. Some common symptoms include pelvic pain, urinary incontinence, and bleeding between periods. 
  • Yellow or greenish with a bad smell: in many cases, this can be a sign of Trichomoniasis. Common symptoms include pain and itching while urinating. 
  • Pinkish: if you notice that your vaginal discharge has a pinking color, it can be a sign of shedding of the uterine lining after childbirth. 
  • Thick, white, cheesy: you might be suffering from Yeast infection. Common symptoms include swelling and pain around the vulva, itching, and pain during intercourse. 
  • White, gray, or yellow with a fishy smell: this may be an indicator of Bacterial vaginosis. Some common symptoms include itching, redness or swelling of the vagina or vulva.

Abnormal vaginal discharge smells

If you notice an unusual smell accompanying the discharge, there is probably an underlying issue. Thin and white discharge with a strong fishy odor may be an indicator of bacterial vaginosis.

If you have yellow discharge with an unpleasant odor, this might indicate that you’re suffering from trichomoniasis.

Sometimes, your menstrual cycle might cause your vagina to have a slightly “metallic” scent for a few days. Intercourse may also change the smell temporarily.

Abnormal vaginal discharge consistency

An unusually thin or thick and more textured fluid is an indicator of an abnormal vaginal discharge. 

Another cause for alarm might be a thick, white, and cottage-cheese-like discharge, along with itching and burning. This is a sign that you might be suffering from a yeast infection. 

Medicine to treat abnormal vaginal discharge

Possible causes of abnormal vaginal discharge

Abnormal vaginal discharge can happen when there’s a decrease in the amount of “good” microbes and an increase in “bad” microbes.

The following things can cause abnormal vaginal discharge:

  • bacterial vaginosis
  • yeast infections
  • birth control pills
  • cervical cancer
  • chlamydia or gonorrhea (STDs)
  • diabetes
  • douching and cleansing practices
  • sexual activity
  • use of antibiotics or steroids
  • hormonal changes
  • pelvic infection after surgery
  • pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • trichomoniasis
  • vaginal atrophy
  • vaginitis
  • menopause
  • pregnancy

When should you see a doctor?

It’s recommended to seek medical care if you think your vaginal discharge has changed. If you’ve noticed a change in color, odor or consistency, or have other symptoms such as burning and itching, make an appointment with your doctor right away.

Your doctor may take a sample of the discharge or do a Pap test for examination.

Abnormal vaginal discharge treatment

If you’re suffering from yeast infections, your doctor might recommend a medicine you put into your vagina or oral drugs.

The treatment for bacterial vaginosis includes antibiotics, usually in the form of pills or creams.

Trichomoniasis is usually treated with oral antibiotics.

There are many ways for you to keep your vagina as healthy as possible.

Follow these tips to prevent vaginal infections that can lead to abnormal discharge:

  • Keep your vagina clean and healthy by washing often with warm water and mild soap. 
  • Keep foaming and scented soaps away from your vulva. 
  • Avoid feminine sprays and bubble baths.
  • Avoid deodorant pads or tampons
  • Always use protection with new sexual partners. 
  • Wear cotton underpants.
  • Avoid tight clothing.
  • After going to the bathroom, wipe from front to back to avoid bacteria from entering into the vagina. 
  • Change your laundry detergent or fabric softener if you think it may be causing you irritation.

This is all you need to know about normal vaginal discharge and abnormal vaginal discharge. Keep your vaginal environment healthy and consult with your doctor for any unpleasant changes. This will make you less likely to contract an STI, and help you avoid any potential health complications.

https://www.health.com/sexual-health/vaginal-discharge 

https://flo.health/menstrual-cycle/health/vaginal-discharge/cervical-mucus-6-things 

https://flo.health/menstrual-cycle/health/vaginal-discharge/all-types-of-vaginal-discharge-what-do-they-really-indicate 

https://www.verywellhealth.com/vaginal-flora-3132918 


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