What Your Vaginal Discharge Says About Your Health
Vaginal discharge is a regular occurrence to most women but a topic we often feel shy to discuss. We also tend to underestimate its significance and relevance to our health.
Did you know there are different types and colours of vaginal discharge that can signify potential health problems? Recognising the early warning signs can help prevent complications of infections or cervical diseases through timely treatment.
Let us dive deeper into understanding vaginal discharge, and learn a few tips on treating that intimate part of your body with care.
What is Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge is fluid secreted from your uterus, vagina, and cervix. Its primary function is to lubricate and clean the vagina while preventing infections.
Depending on your hormones and menstrual cycle, you may find your discharge to vary in amount and consistency. Its consistency can also range from thin and elastic, to a thick and viscous texture.
Generally, a normal or healthy vaginal discharge has the following characteristics:
- Clear, white, or milky-white in colour
- A slight odour that is not too overpowering
- Leaves a slight yellowish stain on your underwear
What Does Each Colour Represent?
Knowing the different colours and consistencies of your vaginal discharge can help you discover red flags in your vaginal health.
White or milky-white in colour is usually an indication of healthy vaginal discharge.
However, if it has a consistency of cottage cheese accompanied by a smelly odour, this could indicate a yeast infection, also known as Candidiasis.
Women who suffer from yeast infection will experience constant itching, pain, or burning sensation around their vulva. Make an appointment with your doctor should you encounter these abnormal symptoms.
A clear vaginal discharge is typically healthy and has the consistency of an egg white. During these stages, you may experience heavier discharge than usual, such as:
Days before or during the ovulation stage of your period cycle, your body will produce heavier and thicker mucus-like fluid as egg prepares to be released from the ovary.
- Sexual Excitement
When sexually aroused, your body will increasingly produce fluid as lubrication when the blood vessels in your genitals dilate.
Pregnancy can cause an increase in vaginal discharge due to a change of hormones.
Grey discharge is a health warning, as it indicates the risk of a bacterial infection called bacterial vaginosis. The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include:
- Itching and irritation
- Strong, foul odour
- Redness or swelling around the vulva
Consider checking with your doctor immediately should you face the above symptoms. When left untreated, bacterial vaginosis could lead to other health complications, such as an increased risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections.
Do not be alarmed if you notice a light yellow discharge. It is likely to be caused by a change in your diet or dietary supplements.
However, should your vaginal discharge be a darker yellow, yellowish-green, or green shade, be alert as this may signify a bacterial or sexually transmitted disease (STDs) known as trichomoniasis. On top of that, you might also observe thick, clumpy, and foul odour in your discharge.
If you encounter these unusual symptoms, consider visiting a doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis.
Light or dark pink discharge often occurs due to spotting before your period. It could also be caused by implantation bleeding during the early pregnancy stage.
Other instances like spotting after ovulation or sexual activities that cause minor tears, or irritation in the vagina and cervix could also result in pink discharge.
These are no causes for alarm but do consult a doctor should you experience constant pink discharge.
Noticing a brown or red discharge during your period is normal. Irregular menstrual cycle or spotting needs to be investigated and you should consult your doctor.
Delaying treatment could lead to further health complications. Therefore, consider visiting a doctor as soon as possible.
When Should I See a Doctor?
Knowing your symptoms is a step towards taking prompt action for a doctor’s visit. Here are the overall symptoms that you need to look out for:
- Pain or burning sensation
- Strong, smelly odour
- Thick, cottage cheese-like consistency
- Dark yellow, yellow-green, or grey discharge
- Bleeding not caused by your period
Discuss any abnormal vaginal discharge symptoms with your doctor for early detection of potential health issues. For mild cases, you will likely be prescribed antibiotics or topical cream to alleviate your symptoms.
Your doctor may also perform diagnostic tests based on your condition. Early detection helps to prevent further health complications from potential diseases.
Tips for Better Vaginal Health
Maintaining a healthy discharge starts from taking care of your personal hygiene. Keeping your vagina healthy is part of an important routine that should not be neglected. Here are a few tips to treating your delicate area with proper care:
- Wash only the outside of your vagina with water. Avoid perfumed soaps, gels, wipes, and vaginal wash.
- Avoid scented tampons or pads that might irritate your genital area.
- Wear breathable underwear and avoid tight clothing to prevent vaginal irritation.
- Get regular health screening if you are sexually active.
Various factors could cause a change in the colour of your discharge, and it is crucial to look out for symptoms that are concerning. Be mindful that your vaginal discharge reflects your health. Seek medical attention promptly should you discover abnormalities.
This article is written by:
Dr Shamini Nair, Specialist in Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Consultant, Raffles Women Centre