What does it mean when you have gray discharge?

What does it mean when you have gray discharge?

Table of Contents

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.

Causes of gray discharge

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

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:

  • Off-white or cloudy gray discharge with a “fishy” odor
  • Vaginal irritation
  • Foul vaginal smell that gets worse after sex or during your period
  • Vaginal itching or soreness (rare)
  • Painful urination

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.

Trichomoniasis

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:

  • Yellow, green, white, or gray vaginal discharge
  • Foul-smelling discharge
  • Genital irritation
  • Painful urination and/or intercourse
  • Vulvar swelling
  • Genital burning or itching

Trichomoniasis in men is typically asymptomatic, but in some cases, it can cause symptoms that include:

  • Painful urination and/or ejaculation
  • Penile discharge
  • Penile irritation

Gonorrhea

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:

  • Yellow, green, or gray discharge
  • Painful urination and/or intercourse
  • Bleeding or spotting between periods
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Heavier periods
  • Pus-like penile discharge

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

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:

  • White, yellowish, or gray discharge
  • Discharge that may or may not have a foul smell
  • Pus in your urine
  • Increased urinary frequency and urgency
  • Painful urination and/or intercourse
  • Bleeding or spotting between periods
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Painful periods
  • Vaginal itching or burning

Cancer

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:

  • Constipation
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Painful intercourse and/or urination
  • Difficult urination
  • A lump in your vagina
  • Pelvic pain
  • Back pain
  • Swelling in your legs

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.

Sources

Bacterial Vaginosis - my.clevelandclinic.org

Trichomoniasis - mayoclinic.org

Gonorrhea – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed Version) - cdc.gov

Chlamydia - my.clevelandclinic.org

Signs and Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer - cancer.org

Vaginal cancer - mayoclinic.org


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