Vaginal discharge is a physiological phenomenon and some form of discharge is considered as absolutely normal. But there are some conditions or disorders of women those are recognized as well as manifested by the change in amount, color, consistency, duration or even smell of the vaginal discharge. Thus, it is of utmost importance to know the difference between a normal and an abnormal vaginal discharge.
What are the different types of vaginal discharges?
1. Normal vaginal discharge (Leucorrhoea):
Almost all women experience some form of vaginal discharges at any point in time. This is usually clear or milky or more like a sticky liquid. These are the secretions from the glands situated in the vagina and cervix. This constant secretion helps in vaginal lubrication, clears out old cells, keeps the vagina clean and safe from outside infections. Usually, it amounts 1 to 4 ml in 24 hours in a normal reproductive-aged woman.
The discharge can be seen within the first few days after birth due to estrogen exposure from mother, within the womb. It looks more like a clear or white mixture with a mucus type of texture.
The secretion is comparatively thinner and has a different bacteria flora.
As the production of estrogen begins at this age, there is an increase in the vaginal discharge along with an increase in glycogen content leading to increased lactobacilli content in the vagina. This, in turn, leads a to more acidic environment inside the vagina which helps to protect the vagina from outer infections.
In the normal menstrual cycle, there is some form of vaginal discharges which are considered normal. During the mid-cycle, there is an increase in vaginal secretion which is an indicator of ovulation.
During pregnancy, due to an increased level of hormones inside the mother's body, the vaginal secretion is increased but without any itching or foul smell. The secretion is commonly white or mildly grey in color associated with a musty smell.
Vaginal secretions decrease after menopause due to the effect of a decrease in sex hormone production inside the body.
2. Abnormal vaginal discharge:
Various conditions and different types of infections and diseases can be reasons for changed vaginal discharges. The discharge might change in color, amount, consistency, duration and could be associated with offensive smell or itching.
When can you see abnormal vaginal discharges?
The following conditions cause abnormal vaginal discharge.
- Bacterial Vaginosis: It is a bacterial infection most commonly seen in women in childbearing age. The general causes include the use of antibiotics for other reasons or exposure to unprotected sex, etc.
- Yeast Infection: Also termed as candidiasis.
- Antibiotic or use of steroids.
- Sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea,
- Use of douches, soaps, and lotions those are scented or taking frequent bubble baths.
- Trichomoniasis: infection due to unprotected sex.
- Sometimes, rarely, viral infections like herpes simplex might also cause this.
What are the signs and symptoms of vaginal discharge?
Usually, there is a change in the amount of secretions along with other changes and associated symptoms are as follows:
- Swelling with or without redness around the vulva.
Based on the specific type of discharge:
1. Bloody, brown colored discharge:
This can be due to periods, or cervical or endometrial cancer. This can be associated with pelvic pain.
2. Yellow or cloudy:
Infection like Gonorrhea. The other associated symptoms include pelvic pain, involuntary or uncontrolled urination, bleeding in between periods cycle.
3. Yellow, greenish and frothy with a bad smell:
This is seen in cases of trichomoniasis and can be associated with itching and pain while urinating.
4. Pink colored:
This is seen due to uterine lining shedding after delivery of the baby.
5. White and cheesy thick secretion:
This is very common and is caused due to yeast or fungal infections. The associated symptoms include pain and swelling around the vulva, pain during sexual intercourse, and itching.
6. White or grey or yellow secretion with fishy odor:
This is another common condition caused due to bacterial vaginosis and rarely associated with itching, but redness and swelling around the vulva can be seen.
Based on the days of the menstrual cycle and color of the discharge: In normal conditions, it is as follows:
- Days 6 to 14: Less vaginal discharge with cloudy or milky and sticky mucus.
- Days 14 to 25: Thin and slippery mucus. Once the ovulation occurs, the mucus again turns to milky, yellow or cloudy and may be sticky.
- Days 25 to 28: Lightening of cervical mucus and less in quantity before the starting of next period.
How vaginal discharge is diagnosed?
On visiting the doctor, he will start with getting a complete history of yours (medical and personal) along with details regarding your vaginal discharge along with the associated other symptoms and medical examination. If required, a vaginal swab might be taken to help in confirming the diagnosis along with microbiological examination, pH estimation. PAP smear can also be used to diagnose the condition.
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What are the treatment and prevention methods?
Once the diagnosis is confirmed for a pathological condition, the treatment aims at eradicating the underlying disease which can be done using antimicrobials (ant-fungal, anti-virals or anti-bacterial) along with symptomatic relief.
The prevention can be done using the following methods:
1. Washing the vagina properly with the help of mild soap and water and keeping the area clean.
2. Wear properly fitting (not too tight or loose garments) preferably cotton.
3. Do not use scented or high chemicals near the vagina.
4. After using the washroom, wipe from front to back in order to prevent migration of organisms from anus to vagina.
5. Have protected sex if not planning for a baby.
Even though vaginal secretions are common, they might also be due to some underlying pathological condition and hence it is better to consult your physician when in doubt in order to cure and get guided about the condition earlier and this can be achieved from the comfort of your home with the help of online medical platforms. This helps to consult your doctor online in just a click.