It can be a bit embarrassing to talk about vaginal discharge and other topics related to your reproductive health, but in reality, most — if not all — women have experienced some form of vaginal discharge at some point in their lives.
In most cases, vaginal discharge is a perfectly normal bodily function that actually tells you a lot about your reproductive health. But in other cases, vaginal discharge can be a sign that something is wrong, and that you may need to seek medical treatment. It’s important to know the differences between the most common types of vaginal discharge so you can recognize them and ask for medical advice when necessary.
Let’s go over different types of vaginal discharge and their possible causes.
Different colours of vaginal discharge and their meaning
White vaginal discharge
White vaginal discharge is a common occurrence and it’s usually normal. White vaginal discharge is typically a combination of expelled dead cells, water, and bacteria that help keep your vagina clean and healthy. As long as your white vaginal discharge isn’t copious or accompanied by other symptoms — such as itching or a strong odour — you probably have nothing to worry about.
If white vaginal discharge has a consistency similar to cottage cheese and is accompanied by excessive itching and irritation, it could be a symptom of a vaginal yeast infection. In some cases, discharge caused by yeast infections or candidiasis also has a sour smell, similar to spoiled milk.
Brown vaginal discharge
Most women experience some reddish or brown spotting at the end of their periods, which happens as your uterus expels the last remnants of its lining. You can also experience breakthrough bleeding or spotting occasionally if you’re using hormonal contraception.
Spotting around the time when you would expect your period can, in some cases, be an early sign of pregnancy called “implantation bleeding”. If you recently had unprotected sex and only experience spotting instead of a regular period, you may want to consider taking a pregnancy test to rule out or confirm this possibility.
In rare cases, spotting — especially after intercourse — can be a sign of a cervical lesion, such as cervical cancer.
Clear vaginal discharge
Clear, stretchy vaginal discharge that resembles egg whites near the middle of your menstrual cycle (typically around day 14) is likely a sign that you’re ovulating. Your body produces this mucus-like discharge to make it easier for sperm cells to swim up your cervix and into your uterus so that you can potentially get pregnant.
Grey vaginal discharge
Grey discharge is usually a sign of an infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). This infection occurs when the normal balance of bacteria in your vagina, which helps keep you healthy, is disturbed.
The discharge caused by BV is grayish or white, and it tends to be thin and foamy. Other symptoms of BV include:
- Painful urination
- Foul or fishy odour, especially after intercourse
- Genital irritation
In other cases, BV can be completely asymptomatic. Different factors can increase your risk of developing BV, including douching and having unprotected intercourse with different partners.
Yellow or green vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge with a very light yellow tinge may be normal if it’s not accompanied by any other symptoms.
However, vaginal discharge with a stronger yellow or yellow-green color isn’t normal, and it could be a symptom of a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
These infections usually cause other symptoms, such as foul vaginal smell, painful urination and/or intercourse, and pelvic inflammation. STDs that can cause this type of discharge include:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Should you go to the doctor?
As a general rule, if you’re anxious about your health and wondering whether you should seek medical assistance, it’s probably a good idea to do so. After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry! If everything is normal, your doctor will be the best person to provide information and reassurance.
However, there are certain warning signs that you should keep in mind when it comes to vaginal discharge. Consider seeking medical assistance if you experience:
- Genital itching
- Strong vaginal odour
- Redness or irritation on your genitals
- Painful urination
- Painful intercourse
- Fever or chills
- Genital such as warts, blisters, or ulcers
- Bleeding or spotting unrelated to your period
- Pelvic pain
Your physician will be able to order any necessary tests and provide an accurate diagnosis. The importance of having a diagnosis can’t be overstated, since it will allow you to access the treatment that you need.
If your vaginal discharge is caused by an STI or another infectious condition, you — and potentially, your partner(s) — could need antibiotics or antifungal medications to resolve the issue. Fortunately, most causes of abnormal vaginal discharge can be easily solved with adequate treatment.
Written by Andrea Pinto on June 4, 2021