Let’s get one thing straight—vaginal discharge is absolutely healthy & normal. But as an owner of a vagina, I can attest to the fact that it's not always easy to know what kind of discharge is normal—and unfortunately, we don’t get a manual. Besides trying to tell you something, your vaginal discharge also protects you. Recognizing different types, what’s normal and abnormal and how to manage different discharge-based symptoms are all important to know. Let’s review:
Types of Vaginal Discharge
Different types of vaginal discharge can indicate different conditions, and can tell us a lot about our health.
Normal vaginal discharge is typically thin and clear or white in color. It will not have an unpleasant smell, and will be similar in amount to a teaspoonful of menstrual materials during your cycle. Normal discharge can also be different in color, texture, quantity and odor depending on the stage of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Most women experience some variation in their vaginal discharge throughout their lifetime—so don’t let a color slightly different from your norm add to your list of worries.
Abnormal discharge is usually much thicker than normal, and can be yellow or green in color. It may also have a strong, unpleasant odor. In some cases, it may also be accompanied by other symptoms such as itching, burning or irritation around the vagina. Abnormal discharge may indicate infection or even other health issues, making it a good idea to consult your doctor as soon as possible. Keeping track of what is going on and what you are seeing can assist you in recognizing when something is out of the ordinary.
Symptoms of Abnormal Discharge
In addition to an abnormal discharge, other symptoms can indicate a possible infection or underlying health problem. These include burning or itching around the vagina, pain during urination or intercourse, unusual odor, unusual color or consistency of the discharge, and abdominal or pelvic pain.
If you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they are worsening, do not hesitate to seek medical attention. Your doctor can diagnose the cause of the abnormal discharge and provide the appropriate treatment.
Best case scenario? The cause may be bacterial vaginosis or yeast infection, which can be treated with antibiotics or antifungal medications. In other cases, the cause may be a more serious condition, such as an STD or pelvic inflammatory disease, which may require more intensive treatment.
Causes of Abnormal Discharge
Abnormal discharge can be caused by several different factors including bacterial or yeast infections, STDs such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, or other underlying medical conditions like ovarian cysts or endometriosis.
Additionally, hormone imbalances can also cause abnormal discharge. While these imbalances are most likely to occur during the pre- or postmenopausal periods, they can actually occur at any time, such as during times of stress or a major life change.
In some cases, abnormal discharge can be caused by a reaction to certain medications, or even a reaction to certain soaps or detergents. It is important to speak to a doctor if you experience any abnormal discharge, as it can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
What To Do About Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
If you experience any changes in your vaginal discharge or any other symptoms that could indicate an infection or other underlying medical condition, it is important to see your doctor right away—especially if you’re sexually active. Your doctor will be able to diagnose any underlying medical conditions and help you determine the best course of treatment.
It is also important to see your doctor if you experience any pain or discomfort in the vaginal area.
Depending on your condition, your doctor may prescribe medications such as antibiotics to treat any underlying infections or medical conditions. If you are diagnosed with an STD, your doctor may also recommend that your sexual partners get tested and treated as well. In addition to practicing safe sex, you can reduce your risk of contracting STDs.
Tips for Preventing Unusual Vaginal Discharge
It is important to take steps to prevent any infections or underlying medical conditions that can cause abnormal vaginal discharge. These include:
- Practicing safe sex
- Peeing after sex
- Avoiding douching or any other products that can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina
- Wearing breathable underwear (cotton is best!)
- Eating a balanced diet
- Adding a Vaginal Probiotic supplement to your routine
Always make sure to maintain good hygiene habits, such as washing the genital area with warm water and mild soap, and changing out of wet swimsuits or sweaty workout clothes as soon as possible. Yes, we all get lazy after that 5pm Butt & Thighs class, but you are actually causing harm to your downstairs BFF by not cleaning her right after. Please don’t ignore symptoms, and do visit your doctor if you experience anything unusual, such as itching, burning, or a foul odor. It may seem simple to live by these rules, but you'd be surprised how many of them you might be not recognizing–let's up the self-love, and spend more time getting to know our vaginas and bodies, and what they need most.