Abnormal Vaginal Discharge: Causes and Treatment

Women normally have vaginal fluid secretions throughout their lifetime. A vaginal discharge is made up of mucus and vaginal secretions. These fluid discharges are necessary because, under normal conditions, they transport dead cells and bacteria out of a woman’s reproductive system. In doing so, the vagina is kept clean and free of germs.

A normal vaginal discharge is usually clear or white and has no foul smell. It could be thick or it could be watery depending on the time of the menstrual cycle. What is taken as “normal” varies from woman to woman. For this reason, it is important to maintain a record of the vaginal discharge appearance.

The volume of discharged fluid can be variable, as well as odor and color, and it generally will change according to women’s menstrual cycle. It also varies when they are pregnant, had a baby, are breastfeeding, when sexually aroused, or have poor intimate hygiene.

Vaginal discharge should be assessed frequently and if unusual changes are detected in its color, smell or consistency, an infection could be present and should be treated as soon as possible.

A fluid vaginal discharge is usually characterized by its color, which in turn, is usually indicative of the presence of an infection. Here are some colors of the vaginal discharge that may show a woman’s health condition:

  • Brown or red vaginal discharges could sometimes be signs of cervical or endometrial cancer. In this case, the vaginal discharge would be accompanied by bleeding and pain. However, in most occasions, it indicates that the woman is undergoing or ending her menstrual period. A routine pelvic exam (performed once a year) should be able to discard any health issues of major concern.
  • Yellow or cloudy vaginal discharges can be due to infections such as gonorrhea. Urinary incontinence and bleeding, as well as pain, may also be present.
  • Yellow or greenish vaginal discharge with a foul smell could indicate the presence of trichomoniasis. This can be accompanied by itching when urinating.
  • A white, gray or yellow vaginal discharge is not abnormal in most occasions.  However, when it itches or it has a smell of fish or cheese, it can be due to vaginosis or a yeast infection. When an infection is present, it will have a burning sensation, and redness and swelling of the vulva or vagina. A doctor consultation is immediately needed.

Bacteria can break the natural balance present in the vagina environment, causing abnormal vaginal discharge. This could be due to a variety of reasons such as the use of prescribed antibiotics or steroids, vaginosis, known to happen in pregnant women, vaginitis (irritation of the vagina) or use of birth control devices and pills.

Illnesses such as cancer, diabetes or pelvic inflammations can also produce variations in the vaginal fluid discharge.

Infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or trichomoniasis can give rise to abnormal vaginal discharges.  Intimate feminine products such as sprays, soaps or douches and atrophy of vagina due to menopause could generate this health condition.

Treatment for abnormal vaginal discharges will depend on the health condition from which it originally started. Antibiotics, antifungal medications, or drugs are prescribed to counter-attack most vaginal infections.

Maintaining good intimate hygiene, avoiding feminine products such as sprays or douches, and keeping the old technique of always wiping front-to-back are things to keep in mind to prevent vaginal infections.

As always consult a doctor when your vaginal discharge looks rare and uncommon to you!

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