VAGINAL DISCHARGE, AND WHY PEOPLE FEEL NERVOUS OR WEIRD

The facts you need to know about your vaginal discharge.

VAGINAL DISCHARGE, AND WHY PEOPLE FEEL NERVOUS OR WEIRD

Ladies (and curious gentlemen), our topic today is maybe not the sexiest topic, but nonetheless, an important and healthy one: vaginal discharge. Vaginal discharge is a topic that many women are curious about and want to discuss, but feel nervous or weird bringing it up to even their closest friends. Here’s what we have to say: vaginal discharge is normal and every female has it. It is not gross and it is not something to be ashamed of. After all, it is part of the female body whether you like it or not.

What is vaginal discharge? Essentially, it is just a mix of cervical mucus and vaginal secretions. “Normal” vaginal discharge looks and feels different for many women. Most of the time, you have nothing to worry about, because your vaginal discharge is normal. However, there are certain types that are abnormal and could be a sign of an infection.

To get the real lowdown, we reached out to an Obstetrics and Gynecology to further discuss vaginal discharge.

What is vaginal discharge?

Let’s jump right in. Tell us about vaginal discharge and what the different characteristics mean.

In general, discharge generally comes from the vagina and cervical mucus. What that means is that the skin inside the vagina and the cervix are always going to produce some kind of discharge. What I, as a pharmacist, consider discharge to be, is a normal or physiological bodily function that helps keep the vagina healthy. However, sometimes the discharge can have certain colors, odors, or textures that can be a sign of either physiologic changes or an infection.

Can you dive more into what you mean by normal vaginal discharge?

Normal, or “physiologic” discharge is healthy and something that you would expect to have every day. You’ll typically notice a clear or whitish discharge without any foul odor. The texture may vary and be thin, watery, or stringy, and this can depend on the time of the month. The volume might change as well - you might have a little bit every day, or nothing on some days and a lot on other days. Basically, there is a wide range of what is normal but it is important to know what is normal for your body.

What is your process for understanding vaginal discharge if a patient comes in concerned?

There are a few things that I generally do as a future doctor to understand whether vaginal discharge is normal or abnormal, Certain factors, such as color, can be very important. Some of the other facts I need to know beforehand are:

  • Is the female patient premenopausal or postmenopausal?
  • Is she pregnant?
  • Does she have any other complaints along with the discharge, such as fever or abdominal pain?
  • Has she had any itching?
  • Does it have a foul or fishy odor?
  • Has she had a fever?
  • Does she feel anything funny down there like a bump or a rash?
  • Is this vaginal discharge only occurring during intercourse?
  • Has she had any unprotected sex or any new sexual partners?
  • How long has she been having this?

There are several other questions that I need to know that qualify the discharge to know that even despite the color, if it is normal or abnormal.

Discharge color and types

What are the types of vaginal discharge and what does the color of vaginal discharge mean?

There are a lot of various types of vaginal discharge. These types are grouped based on their color and consistency. A few types of vaginal discharge are normal, but others may be a sign of an underlying condition that needs to be treated. What the color signifies really depends on the situation. It’s hard to isolate the color alone, as even white discharge can be abnormal, depending on what else is happening with the patient. There’s no way to make a diagnosis based on the color alone, but you would have to take into account certain factors like a patient’s age, behaviors, menstrual cycle, and other symptoms. But basically, the colors can mean the following:

White discharge

Not necessarily abnormal. A little bit of white discharge, particularly at the start or end of your menstrual cycle, is normal. However, if the discharge is followed by itching and if it has a thick consistency with a cottage cheese texture, it could mean there is a yeast infection. I would say a milky white discharge can be anything from normal to suggestive of an infection depending on if there is anything else going on, such as itching, odor, or pelvic pain. If there are any of these other symptoms, it could be a sign of bacterial vaginosis or an STI.

Clear and Watery

Sometimes a woman may experience a clear and watery discharge. This is completely normal and can happen at any time of the month. It may be particularly heavy after walkouts.

Clear and Stretchy

When your discharge is clear and stretchy or looks like mucous instead of water, it is a sign that you are possibly ovulating. This is a healthy and perfectly normal discharge.

Brown or bloody discharge

If a woman has brown discharge while she is menstruating or towards the tail end of a period; it may be normal. A late discharge at the end of your period can look brown instead of red. This is probably just some blood in the discharge. You may as well witness a tiny bloody discharge between your periods. Depending on when it happens, it could even be spotting in between periods. If you experience spotting the normal time of your period and you have not long had unprotected sex, it could be an indication that you are pregnant. Spotting at an early phase of pregnancy can be a sign of miscarriage.

So, if this happens you should see a doctor, but it may not necessarily be a sign of infection or miscarriage. However, if a patient is postmenopausal, this could raise concern for a potential cancer of the female organs. In uncommon occasions, brown or bloody discharge could be a signal of advanced cervical cancer. This is why it’s significant to get yourself checked every year. Go for routine pelvic exam and Pap smear, so that your gynecologist will examine you for cervical abnormalities.

Yellow Discharge

This can also be normal, but could potentially be a sign of an infection. Generally, when a yellow discharge is thick, chunky, or when it has a bad smell is abnormal. This form of discharge may be an indication of the infection known as trichomoniasis, which is frequently transmitted through sexual intercourse. Although many women with chlamydia or gonorrhea have no symptoms at all, those that do may experience this type of discharge.

Green Discharge

I would say this is usually abnormal and suggestive of an infection. A yellow or green thick, chunky foul smelly discharge is not normal but could be a sign of a sexually transmitted disease like trichomoniasis.

Other factors

I think there is nothing specific about these 4 colors that are scary in and of themselves, but you would have to take into account certain factors like where the patient currently is in her reproductive cycle.

Does your vaginal discharge change depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle?

Yes. In some cases, ovulation will cause a little bleeding, which when mixed into normal vaginal secretions causes a brown discharge.

Causes of vaginal discharge, normal and abnormal

Normal vaginal discharge is a healthy bodily function. It is mostly the means taken by your body system to clean and protect the vagina. When you work out or engage in other physical activities, the tendency is for your discharge to increase. Also, you would tend to experience additional discharge of sexual arousal, and ovulation, when you use birth control pills, and when you are suffering from emotional stress.

On the other hand, the major cause of abnormal vaginal discharge is infection.

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a common bacterial infection. This infection can result to excessive or a boost in your vaginal discharge. It usually comes in a strong, foul-smelly, and occasionally fish-like odor. In some instances, however, it doesn’t have any significant symptoms. Women who commonly receive oral sex or who have many sexual partners tend to have more of this type of infection.

Trichomoniasis

This is the second type of infection. It is usually caused by a single-celled organism known as protozoan. The infection is normally contracted during sexual interactions, but it can also be transmitted by sharing towels or bathing suits. This infection usually comes in a yellow or green color and has a foul smelly odor. It can also result in pain, inflammation, and itching. However, a few people would not experience any symptoms.

Yeast Infection

A yeast infection is a fungal infection that results to white, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge. It also results in burning and itching sensations. It is normal to have yeast in your vagina but, if it grows out of hand it could result in yeast infections. This type of condition frequently occurs when you are having any of the conditions below:

  • when you suffer from stress
  • when you suffer from a diabetic condition
  • when you are making use of a birth control pill
  • It can occur when you are pregnant
  • when you are under antibiotic medication particularly if you have used it for more than 10 days

Gonorrhea and Chlamydia

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted infections. They can create an abnormal discharge, which is frequently yellow, greenish, or cloudy in color.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection that is frequently transmitted through sexual contact. It exists when bacteria disperse around the vagina and into other parts of the woman’s reproductive system. It may result in a heavy and distasteful-smelling discharge.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) or Cervical Cancer

The human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is a cancer of the cervix. It is normally transmitted through sexual contact. It can result in cervical cancer. Although it may not come with symptoms, this type of cancer can result in a bloody, brown, and/or watery discharge with a bad odor. Cervical cancer can readily be prevented or discovered when you go for normal annual pap smears routine checks and through HPV testing.

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