Noticing yellow vaginal discharge can be distressing for any woman. This type of discharge can be caused by many different conditions — and in some cases, it may even be a normal occurrence. It’s important to recognize warning signs that can accompany yellow vaginal discharge and point to a health problem.
In most cases, yellow vaginal discharge is a sign of an infection. It’s important to keep an eye out for any warning signs that try to tell you that something is wrong with your reproductive health.
Let’s talk about some of the most common causes of yellow vaginal discharge.
In some cases, vaginal discharge with a slight yellow tint may be normal. Normal vaginal discharge tends to be white, but you could also see a very mild yellow color sometimes. Under normal circumstances, vaginal discharge shouldn’t be accompanied by any symptoms, and it shouldn’t have an unpleasant smell.
Chlamydia, caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis, is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted infection (STI) around the world. A large percentage of those infected with chlamydia are asymptomatic, which helps drive its spread. Chlamydia can spread through vaginal, oral, and anal sex.
When symptomatic, chlamydia can cause:
If left untreated, chlamydia can cause scarring of the reproductive organs, pelvic inflammatory disease — which we’ll discuss below —, chronic pelvic pain, fertility problems, and pregnancy complications.
Gonorrhea is an STI caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Similarly to chlamydia, gonorrhea can be completely asymptomatic in many of the people who are infected. Although gonorrea is an STI, it can also affect parts of the body outside of the male or female reproductive systems, such as the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth, and rectum. This disease spreads through vaginal, oral, and anal sex, but it can also pass from mother to child during delivery.
Symptoms of gonorrhea in women can include:
Untreated gonorrhea can spread and affect other parts of the body, causing symptoms such as:
Trichomoniasis is another STI, this time caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. The discharge caused by trichomoniasis is usually more yellowish-green than pure yellow, but it’s another condition that you should keep in mind.
Symptoms of trichomoniasis include:
Although yeast infections caused by Candida spp. typically lead to white, clumpy discharge, it can also have a slight yellow tinge. The most common symptom of a vaginal yeast infection is intense genital itching, which can be accompanied by painful urination or intercourse, genital irritation and swelling, and cracked skin.
Pelvic inflammatory disease isn’t caused by one specific pathogen — instead, it’s a complication that can develop as a result of an untreated infection of the reproductive system. This occurs when an infection spreads to the upper part of the female reproductive system, including the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
Symptoms of PID include:
PID can lead to life-threatening complications, such as sepsis. It can also cause scarring to the reproductive system, which can lead to chronic issues such as an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, infertility, and chronic pelvic pain.
As we mentioned earlier, yellow vaginal discharge is usually a symptom of infection, and you should seek medical attention so you can get an early diagnosis. Your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination, take your history, and possibly collect a sample of the discharge for testing. Signs that you need to seek medical advice include:
Since many STIs can remain asymptomatic for a long time, it’s important to attend regular checkups with your gynecologist. Keep in mind that even asymptomatic STIs can lead to chronic health complications. Asymptomatic individuals may also be unaware that they’re spreading an STI to their partners.
The treatment for your yellow vaginal discharge will depend on its cause. Most conditions that lead to yellow vaginal discharge can be treated with a course of antibiotics (or antifungals, in the case of candidiasis). Depending on your symptoms, your doctor could also prescribe antiinflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, to help with pain and inflammation.
If you’re diagnosed with an STI, your doctor could suggest more extensive testing to rule out co-infection with other diseases. This way, they’ll be able to ensure a more effective treatment plan for you. Your partner(s) could also require treatment, even if they’re asymptomatic — otherwise, you could be at risk of getting reinfected again.