Vaginal Discharge: What’s Abnormal?

Medically reviewed by Dr K on 18.6.2021

Vaginal Discharge: What's Normal and What's Not

Vaginal discharge is a vital part of the female reproductive system's health. Dead cells and bacteria are carried away by fluid produced by glands within the vagina and cervix. This helps to keep the vaginal area clean and avoid infection.

Vaginal discharge is, for the most part, perfectly normal. Depending on the time in your menstrual cycle, the amount, odour, and colour (which may range from clear to a milky white-ish) may all change. When you're ovulating, nursing, or sexually stimulated, for example, you'll have greater discharge. When you're pregnant or haven't kept up with your personal hygiene, it may smell different.

None of these changes are alarming. If the colour, smell, or consistency is out of the ordinary, particularly if you're also experiencing vaginal itching or burning, you might be dealing with an infection or another condition.

Causes Of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

Any alteration in the usual bacteria balance in the vaginal canal might affect the smell, colour, or texture of the discharge. Here are a few factors that might throw the balance off:

  • Antibiotic or steroid use
  • Bacterial vaginosis, a bacterial infection more common in pregnant women or women who have multiple sexual partners
  • Birth control contraception medications
  • Cervical cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Douches, scented soaps, lotions, bubble baths
  • Pelvic infection after surgery
    Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Sexually transmitted infections, like Chlamydia or Gonorrhea or Trichomoniasis
  • Vaginal atrophy, the thinning and drying out of the vaginal walls during menopause
  • Vaginitis, irritation in or around the vagina
  • Yeast infections

Diagnosis Of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

The doctor will begin by inquiring about your symptoms and taking a medical history. The following are examples of possible questions you might be asked:

  • When did the unusual discharge start?
  • What colour is your vaginal discharge?
  • Is there an unusual odour?
  • Is there any itchiness, soreness, or burning in or around your vaginal region?
  • Are you in a sexual relationship with more than one person?
  • Do you use any contraception when sexually active?
  • Do you douche?

A sample of your discharge may be taken, or a Pap test may be performed to collect cells from your cervix for further examination.

Treatment Of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

The manner in which you are treated will be determined by the nature of the issue. Yeast infections, for example, are commonly treated with antifungal medications or gels put into the vagina. Antibiotic tablets or creams are used to treat bacterial vaginosis. Metronidazole (Flagyl) or tinidazole are often used to treat trichomoniasis (Tindamax).

Here are some suggestions for avoiding vaginal infections and irregular discharge:

  • On the exterior, wash with a moderate, mild soap and warm water to keep the vagina clean. It is not necessary to apply soap directly to the vaginal area.
  • Do not use scented soaps, feminine hygiene products, or douche. In addition, stay away from feminine sprays and bubble baths.
  • Always wipe from front to back after going to the toilet to avoid pathogens from entering into the vaginal canal and developing an infection.
  • Wear 100 % cotton underwear and avoid wearing clothes that are too tight.


Referenced on 24/5/2021

  1. National Institutes of Health: ''What is Vaginitis?''
  2. American Family Physician, 2004; vol 69: pp 2191-2192.
  3. Mitchell, H. BMJ, 2004; vol 328: pp 1306-1308.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: ''Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010.''

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