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Yellow Discharge: 5 Most Common Questions Answered

Depending on a few other factors, yellow discharge can be considered normal or abnormal. Here are some ways to find out if your yellow discharge is a sign that you need medical treatment. 

What are the types of yellow discharge?

In order to know whether your discharge is considered normal, a few factors should be considered. There are many different types of vaginal discharge, and a quick assessment of the amount, color, consistency, phase of your menstrual cycle, and scent of your vaginal discharge can hint at whether you need to make an appointment with a gynecologist. 

If your yellow discharge is odorless, you probably don’t need to be concerned. Discharge with a smell may indicate an infection of some sort. If you have yellow discharge without odor, the color may be due to factors besides an infection.

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Light-yellow or pale-yellow discharge without odor and other accompanying symptoms, such as vaginal burning or itching, may be considered normal.

Bright yellow discharge or thick yellow discharge — especially with an accompanying odor — is not considered normal. This usually indicates an infection.

Is yellow discharge normal?

In certain circumstances, yellow discharge is considered normal. A few days before your period, you may notice a creamy or sticky, pale-yellow discharge.

Leading up to your period, the discharge may darken as a small amount of blood may mix with the discharge until it turns into the flow of your period.

As your period begins to lighten, the color of the blood will change from red to brown and eventually to a brownish-yellow. This yellow discharge that you’ll notice for a few days is just leftover menstrual fluid exiting your uterus.

Yellow discharge is not considered normal when it is accompanied by a bad smell, itchiness, soreness, pelvic pain, or pain when urinating.

What causes yellow discharge?

If you have yellow discharge and you’re pretty sure it isn’t related to your period, several other things could be causing it.

Yeast infection

The vagina needs to maintain a specific environment in order to stay healthy. The pH, moisture level, and balance of bacteria all work together to create optimal conditions. When one of them varies for any reason, it can lead to an infection. Things like increased sexual activity, douching, taking antibiotics, and hormonal imbalances or changes can disrupt this delicate ecosystem and lead to an overgrowth of “bad” microbes.

Vaginal yeast infection, also called candidiasis, is a common and treatable condition. It occurs when the vagina’s normal yeast multiply out of control.

The most common symptoms of a yeast infection are:

  • Itching and irritation of the vulva and vagina
  • Swelling and redness of the vulva 
  • Vaginal pain and soreness
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain, discomfort, or a burning sensation when urinating
  • Clumpy discharge often described as looking like “cottage cheese”

If you notice these symptoms plus whitish-yellow discharge, you may have a yeast infection.

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis — sometimes called “trich” — is a common and treatable sexually transmitted infection (STI). Lots of people affected with trichomoniasis do not know they have it because many cases are asymptomatic.

The typical symptoms are:

  • Green or yellow discharge that is frothy with an unpleasant smell
  • Swelling and redness of the vulva and vagina
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Pain or discomfort during urination
  • Pain or discomfort  during sex

Trich is treated with antibiotics. A person who is diagnosed with trich should inform all of their sexual partners even if they do not have symptoms.

Chlamydia or gonorrhea

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are both STIs that are often asymptomatic. These common infections are easily treated with antibiotics. If left untreated for a long time, they can lead to complications like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy, chronic pelvic pain due to adhesions, infertility, complications in pregnancy, and more.

That’s why it’s a good idea to get tested for STIs frequently, especially if you’ve recently had sex with someone new or have multiple sexual partners.

Common symptoms of chlamydia and gonorrhea include:

  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Pelvic pain
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods

Pelvic inflammatory disease

When an infection like chlamydia or gonorrhea goes untreated, it can spread inside the pelvis to the uterus, uterine tubes, and ovaries, leading to a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Many different types of bacteria can cause PID. Left untreated, it can lead to a wide range of complications, including pregnancy complications like extrauterine pregnancy, miscarriage, or chronic pelvic pain.

It’s worth making note of the symptoms of PID, which include:

  • Pain in the lower abdomen and pelvis 
  • Irregular periods
  • Spotting or bleeding during or after intercourse or between menstrual cycles
  • Green or yellow discharge that has a foul smell
  • Painful sex
  • Painful urination
  • Fever, chills, or nausea accompanying these symptoms

What does yellow discharge mean during pregnancy?

Pregnancy comes with lots of changes and symptoms due to increased hormones. Many pregnant people will experience an increase in vaginal discharge during pregnancy because estrogen and progesterone levels, which affect vaginal discharge, are at an all-time high.

Normally, vaginal discharge during pregnancy — also called leukorrhea — is thin, white, and mild-smelling. Slightly yellow discharge without odor may also be perfectly normal.

However, if you notice green or yellow discharge that has a foul smell, it might signal a vaginal infection. One of the most common infections during pregnancy is a yeast infection. Yellow discharge should definitely be checked by a health care provider, especially if it is accompanied by itching, swelling, or pain in or outside the vagina.

If you have a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or an STI when you give birth, the baby could get exposed to infection. It’s important to visit a health care provider right away if you suspect an infection during pregnancy.

How is yellow discharge treated?

In order for your health care provider to treat yellow discharge, they must first diagnose you. If you have a yeast infection, a health care provider may prescribe an antifungal cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository. Your treatment plan will vary based on the severity of your symptoms.

Bacterial infections and STIs like the ones mentioned above are treated with antibiotics. Starting treatment as soon as possible can keep the infection from spreading and causing a more serious condition such as pelvic inflammatory disease.

Conclusion

If you have a vagina, you’re going to experience vaginal discharge. It’s important to know how to identify whether your discharge may be abnormal. Clear, white, or slightly yellow discharge that does not have an odor and accompanying symptoms is typically harmless. However, if your discharge is green or yellow and has a foul smell, you may have an infection.

If you think you may have a vaginal infection, see a health care provider soon so you can start treatment if it’s needed.

“Vaginal Discharge.” NHS Choices, NHS, 17 Jan. 2018, www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaginal-discharge/.

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

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Chlamydia Infections.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 Mar. 2020, medlineplus.gov/chlamydiainfections.html.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Gonorrhea.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Dec. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gonorrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20351774.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vaginal Candidiasis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/genital/.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Yeast Infection (Vaginal).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 July 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20378999.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “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.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The Facts - Gonorrhea.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Jan. 2016, www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/the-facts/default.htm.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 Apr. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pelvic-inflammatory-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352594.

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