Is My Vaginal Discharge Normal?

Reviewed on 11/19/2021

What is vaginal discharge?

The vagina is a self-cleaning organ. It produces its own microbial environment with the help of certain good bacteria. These bacteria, along with dead cells and cellular secretions, form vaginal discharge. If your discharge is one-half to one teaspoon (2 to 5 mL) every day with the following characteristics, it is considered normal.

  • Clear, white or off-white
  • Somewhat thin, sticky and elastic
  • Thick and gooey
  • Mostly odorless
  • Stains (sometimes even bleaches) the underwear

Vaginal discharge varies from woman to woman in color, smell, consistency and amount. Moreover, it may vary during the menstrual cycle. Some conditions where vaginal discharge may be prominent include:

What are the signs of abnormal vaginal discharge?

If you notice vaginal discharge with the following signs and symptoms, you should immediately consult a physician because it may indicate a problem.

What is the purpose of vaginal discharge?

Normal vaginal discharge has several purposes, including:

  • Clean and moisten the vagina
  • Help prevent and fight infections
  • Carry away dead cells and bacteria

Types of normal discharge

There are different types of normal discharge that are not concerning:

  • Clear and watery discharge is perfectly normal and isn’t accompanied by any symptoms, like pain, itching, or irritation.
  • Slight, white discharge that occurs at the beginning or end of menstruation with no accompanying symptoms is also normal.
  • Clear and stretchy discharge, or a mucous-like discharge, usually indicates ovulation.
  • Pinkish lochia is the shedding of the uterine lining after childbirth.

Types of abnormal discharge

These are types of abnormal vaginal discharge:

  • Bloody, brown or watery discharge accompanied by abnormal vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain could indicate irregular menstrual cycles, or less often, cervical or endometrial cancer.
  • Cloudy or yellow discharge with bleeding between periods, fever, urinary incontinence and pelvic pain often indicates a gonorrhea infection.
  • Frothy, yellow or greenish discharge with an unpleasant odor, along with pain and itching while urinating could indicate trichomoniasis.
  • Thick, white and cheesy-like discharge with symptoms of swelling and pain around the vulva, itching and painful sexual intercourse suggests a yeast infection.
  • White, gray or yellow discharge that has a fishy odor, in addition to itching or burning, redness and swelling of the vagina or vulva are symptoms of bacterial vaginosis.
  • Heavy, foul-smelling discharge with pain during intercourse, abnormal uterine bleeding, cramping or painful menstruation, fever, nausea and vomiting are symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease. (*Note - with fever or vomiting, this is a medical emergency.)
  • Yellow discharge, along with dryness of the vagina, burning and itching of the vagina, pain during sex, vulvar itching, spotting or bleeding indicates vaginal atrophy.

When to seek medical help

If you notice any irregularity in your vaginal discharge, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible. Additionally, look out for the following symptoms.

QUESTION

What is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)? See Answer

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References
WebMD: "Vaginal Discharge: What’s Abnormal?"

UpToDate: "Patient education: Vaginal discharge in adult women (Beyond the Basics)"

KidsHealth: "Vaginal Discharge: What's Normal, What's Not"

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