Understanding vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge is a normal occurrence and it is what the vagina naturally uses to get rid of dead cells and bacteria. This is a fluid that is released from glands that are located in the cervix and vagina. There are times when the discharge is unusual and this is a sign of a condition that can be non-sexual or sexual.
What causes non-sexual vaginal discharge?
- Yeast infections
- Birth control
- Irritation due to douching
- Cervical cancer
- Allergic reactions to soaps and lotions
- Bacterial vaginosis
When the discharge has an abnormal color, and unusual texture and a smelly odor, it could be as a result of sexually transmitted. Yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis are the most common non-sexual conditions that affect most women and cause vaginal discharge. These conditions mostly occur when there is no balance in fungal or bacterial levels. These conditions can also cause itching, unusual odor and require medical treatment.
When should you be worried about vaginal discharge?
If the vaginal discharge is caused by a sexually transmitted infection, it is caused by fungi, bacteria and other intruders that result in the inflammation of the urinary tract, cervix or vagina. The cause behind the discharge will determine odor, texture and color.
Discharge can be:
- Thick and viscous
- Gummy or cottage cheese-like texture
- “Fishy” smelling
- Milky or grayish white
- Thin and watery
Which STDs cause vaginal discharge?
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are the most common sexually transmitted infections that cause vaginal discharge. Chlamydia is the most common STD in women but it is common to have gonorrhea together with chlamydia. Fortunately, these two infections can be treated with antibiotics but can have serious effects if not treated.
Trichomoniasis, is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by a protozoan parasite. This infection is also known to cause a vaginal discharge with a strong, smelly odor.
The first step towards knowing the cause of your vaginal discharge is getting tested. If you are sexually active, frequent STD tests will save you from serious infections. Some of these infections will not show any symptoms and this means that they might progress to stages that are difficult to manage or treat.
- “Vaginal Discharge.” Office of Population Affairs. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.hhs.gov/opa/reproductive-health/fact-sheets/vaginal-discharge/index.html
- “Vaginal Discharge.” Sutter Health: Palo Alto Medical Foundation. http://www.pamf.org/teen/health/femalehealth/discharge.html
- “Vaginal Discharge: What’s Normal, What’s Not.” Kids Health. Reviewed by Robyn R. Miller, MD. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/vdischarge2.html
- “Diseases Characterized by Vaginal Discharge.” 2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/vaginal-discharge.htm
Medically Reviewed by J. Frank Martin JR., MD on Jun 18, 2019
Written by Lauralei Like on Nov 10, 2017