Normal vaginal discharge can vary from one woman to the next, and it even changes throughout your cycle. Vaginal discharge is your body’s way of cleaning itself, getting rid of dead cells and other impurities, and keeping your reproductive system lubricated and healthy.
But in some cases, discharge can also be a sign that something is wrong with your reproductive health. Unusual colors, smells, and textures can point to different health problems. Let’s talk about some of the possible causes of gray vaginal discharge.
Most cases of gray discharge with odor are caused by an infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). According to the Cleveland Clinic, BV is caused by an imbalance in the bacteria that normally lives in the vagina. As a result, there’s an overgrowth of a certain type of bacteria called Gardnerella vaginalis. Symptoms of BV can include:
BV isn’t sexually transmitted, although an active sex life can increase the risk of developing this infection. Pregnancy is also a risk factor for BV, so if you’re experiencing gray discharge during pregnancy, you should take a test to rule out this condition. Bacterial vaginosis can increase the risk of pregnancy complications, so it’s very important to get treated as soon as possible.
The good news is that most cases of BV respond very well to treatment with antibiotics. STD home test kits are an easy and convenient way to test for multiple STDs and many screening panels include bacterial vaginosis, and you can get tested from the comfort of your own home.
In rare cases, trichomoniasis can also cause dark gray discharge. Trichomoniasis is sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis, and it’s more common amongst women.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of trichomoniasis can include:
Trichomoniasis in men is typically asymptomatic, but in some cases, it can cause symptoms that include:
Gonorrhea is an STD caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and it’s one of the most common STDs around the world. According to the CDC, the highest reported rates of gonorrhea infections happen among sexually active teenagers and young adults. Symptoms of gonorrhea can include:
Gonorrhea can be asymptomatic. In other cases, the infection will only cause mild symptoms that can be confused with other diseases, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs). However, even asymptomatic individuals can spread the infection to their sexual partners.
Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis, and along with gonorrhea, it’s a very common bacterial STD. But just like many other STDs, this infection can be completely asymptomatic, which is why it’s so important to get tested regularly even if you don’t have symptoms like grainy vaginal discharge.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, chlamydia symptoms can include:
In rare cases, gray vaginal discharge can be a sign of certain types of cancer, such as vaginal cancer. Discharge caused by cancer can also be tinged with blood, or lead to gray tissue discharge. According to the American Cancer Society, early-stage vaginal cancer may not cause any symptoms at all.
Other symptoms of vaginal cancer can include:
Keep in mind that in most cases, these symptoms are caused by something other than cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, vaginal cancer is quite rare. It’s important to remember that the best way to prevent the progression of vaginal cancer is by catching it early. Vaginal cancer can be detected during your regular OB-GYN checkups
Gray vaginal discharge isn’t a normal occurrence, and it’s very important to discover its cause. Unlike other types of discharge — such as pink spotting or brown discharge —, gray discharge during period or gray discharge before period isn’t a normal part of your menstrual cycle.
Fortunately, simple strategies such as getting tested for STDs regularly can help you maintain your sexual and reproductive health and catch any complications as early as possible so you can get treatment. You can learn more about different types of vaginal discharge and other topics on reproductive health at STDWatch.com.
Bacterial Vaginosis - my.clevelandclinic.org
Trichomoniasis - mayoclinic.org
Chlamydia - my.clevelandclinic.org
Signs and Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer - cancer.org
Vaginal cancer - mayoclinic.org