Definition of vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge is a combination of fluid and cells continuously shed through your vagina. Vaginal discharge functions to clean and protect the vagina. The color and consistency of vaginal discharge vary — from whitish and sticky to clear and watery between your menstrual periods — roughly corresponding to the stage of your reproductive cycle.
Some amount of vaginal discharge is completely normal. However, if your vaginal discharge has an unusual odor and appearance, or occurs along with itching or pain, it may be a sign that something’s wrong.
Causes of vaginal discharge
Most causes of abnormal vaginal discharge — such as yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis or menopause symptoms — are relatively harmless, but they can be very uncomfortable.
Abnormal vaginal discharge can also be a symptom of certain sexually transmitted infections. Since these infections can be passed on to other sexual partners — or can spread to the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes — detection and treatment is important.
Very rarely, a brownish or blood-tinged vaginal discharge could be a sign of cervical cancer.
Other causes of vaginal discharge may include:
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Placenta previa
- Genital warts
- HPV infection
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Rectovaginal fistula (an abnormal opening between the rectum and vagina that allows feces to leak into the vagina)
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Vaginal atrophy
- Vaginal cancer
- Vesicovaginal fistula
- Yeast infection (vaginal)
When to see a doctor
Schedule a doctor’s visit if you have:
- Greenish, yellowish, thick or cheesy vaginal discharge
- Strong vaginal odor
- Redness, itching, burning or irritation of your vagina or the area of skin that surrounds the vagina and urethra (vulva).
- Bleeding or spotting unrelated to your period
For self-care at home:
- Try an over-the-counter antifungal cream for a suspected yeast infection.
- Use a cold compress, such as a washcloth or ice pack, to relieve itching, swelling or discomfort of the vulva
- Abstain from intercourse or have your partner use a condom for a week after beginning treatment.
- See your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away after a week or so.