Vaginal discharge – What is it, and what causes it

What is vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a natural process. The wall of the vagina and cervix produces fluid or mucus secretions that can be discharged through the vagina. Normal discharge is liquid, transparent and whitish. When it dries, it becomes a little yellow. Usually it can have an acidic smell, but it can also be odorless.
There are periods when women complaint about their vaginal discharge. The quantity may be more than normal or it can have a granular aspect. The color may vary becoming green. It can also contain some traces of blood. The smell can change or become even unpleasant. Discharge can also lead to complaints such as itching, irritation or burning sensations in and around the vagina. Urination and sexual intercourse can also be painful.

What causes vaginal discharge?

The monthly cycle has an influence on production of secretions. Around ovulation, which usually falls in between 2 menstrual cycle periods, there is more discharge than normal.  Also, color and odor can change.

  • Sexual arousal causes also more discharge by most of the women.
  • During pregnancy, there is often more discharge.
  • Birth control pills can affect the secretions.
  • Age has an effect, women in the menopause has much less secretions.

Vaginal discharge that can be other than a woman is used to, is often caused by bacteria or fungi that inhabits the vagina normally.

  • Using soap in intimate areas can increase the number of fungi and bacteria creating inflammation.
  • Medical conditions which decrease the immunity such as diabetes mellitus can cause increase in the fungi.
  • Antibiotics use give fungi an opportunity to multiply and increase.
  • During pregnancy due to hormonal changes in the body there is more chance of a fungal infection.

An infection can also be caused by fungi or bacteria that do not belong in the vagina, that are introduced. This is the case in sexually transmitted infections (STI’s).

Is vaginal discharge a serious condition?

Vaginal discharge on its own is not a serious condition, some periods of discharge that a woman is not used to can cause no harm. In most of the cases it resolves spontaneously within 1 to 3 weeks.
Other accompanying complaints that may be annoying and needs to be discussed with your doctor are itching, swelling and irritation around/in the vagina or pain when urinating or having sexual intercourse or abdominal complaints.

What can you do by vaginal discharge?

  • Complaints arise rather by too much than too little hygiene. It is not good if there is soap in the vagina, therefore when washing do not use soap. It is sufficient for the pubic area to rinse off with lukewarm water under the shower and pat dry.
  • Some women wash the vagina with lactic acid solutions. There is no evidence that this helps. Vaginal douches and deodorants can irritate the vagina and are therefore not recommended.
  •  In case of wiping after defecation (which is not recommended) always wipe from front to back.
  • Despite there is no strong evidence that panty liners and nylon panties make vaginal discharge worse, it is advised to wear cotton panties and use no panty liners. This prevents a sweltering environment in which fungi and bacteria optimally increase.
  • Avoid scratching in case of itchiness as the delicate tissue around the vagina can easily be damaged.
  • Avoid sexual intercourse when the vagina is still dry this causes the mucous membrane to be irritated. Let the vagina first be moist or use an appropriate lubricant.
  • Avoid using condoms and lubricants that has spermicides added to it, as they irritate the vagina.
  • Use condoms when having sexual intercourse with different partners to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

When should you contact your doctor when having vaginal discharge?

  • If you continue complaining of itchiness.
  • When having burning sensation/pain when urinating.
  • If discharge changes in color and odor.
  • If discharge is bloody, if not having your menstruation.
  • If you think you might have a sexually transmitted disease.
  • If you have abdominal pain.


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