Vaginal Discharge - When Should You See A Doctor

Dec 14, 2022

What Is Vaginal DischargeWhat Is Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge is a normal physiological function that all women experience. The clear or whitish fluid that comes from the vagina is made up of dead cells and bacteria being removed from the uterus, cervix and vagina. The discharge keeps the organs clean, lubricates the vagina and forms a protective barrier that helps to prevent infection. The amount of discharge varies from woman to woman and while some produce larger quantities, others produce less. Vaginal discharge is not, by itself a cause for concern.

What Is Normal Discharge?

Although the quantum of discharge varies, there are some general characteristics that a woman should be aware of. Knowing this will help in knowing if there is a problem that requires a visit to the doctor.

  • Colour: Healthy vaginal discharge is clear, or a milky/off-white shade. A darker hue, such as brown, green, grey or yellow may indicate an infection or developing abnormality which requires a visit to the doctor.
  • Texture: The texture of the discharge can range from watery to sticky to thick. Variations in the texture due to hormonal changes are normal, but infections may also cause such changes. If the discharge is lumpy, foamy or altered in color it may indicate an infection.
  • Odour:  Vaginal discharge may have a slight odour, but it should not be unpleasant. If there is a strong unpleasant smell, and the discharge has an altered colour or texture, an infection may be present.
  • Volume: The amount of normal vaginal discharge varies from woman to woman – some produce a larger amount and some less. Various factors such as being pregnant, ovulation and using certain contraception methods like birth control pills may alter the normal amount of discharge. If the volume changes for no apparent reason, it could indicate a problem.

The First Course Of Action

If you suspect that you have a problem without severe symptoms, you can try self-care at home for a few days. This includes:

  • Using a non-prescription antifungal cream if you suspect a yeast infection.
  • Using a cold compress to relieve swelling, discomfort or itching of the vulva.
  • Abstaining from sexual intercourse for a week.

If the symptoms do not improve, a doctor should be consulted.

When To See A Doctor

If you have abnormal vaginal discharge and it is accompanied by any or all of the following, you should contact a doctor without delay:

  • Feelings of weakness, fatigue or general lassitude.
  • A change in the colour of the discharge.
  • Fever.
  • Unusual abdominal pain either constant or intermittent.
  • Sore or blisters in the vagina or surrounding areas.
  • Pain in the vagina.
  • Vaginal rash.
  • Any signs of infection around the labia or vagina.
  • Watery discharge that is tinted pink or red indicates the presence of blood (if it does not appear during menstruation).

Common Causes

Several different infections can cause changes to vaginal discharge. A woman may have more than one type of infection at the same time. One of the most common ways for infections to be transmitted is through having sex with an infected person.

  • Yeast infection: Yeast infection when a fungus develops in the vagina. Common indications of this are a thick white, lumpy discharge accompanied by swelling and itchiness of the vagina. Sexual intercourse may be very painful.
  • Trichomoniasis: This is a sexually transmitted infection that comes from having sex with an infected person. It is caused by a parasite. The common indications include discharge that is grey, green or yellow and may be frothy in texture.
  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia: These are among the most common vaginal infections that cause abnormal discharge. Both come from having sex with an infected person. If left untreated, the infection may spread and result in pelvic pain and pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Bacterial vaginosis: Some amount of bacteria being present in the vagina is normal. However, when there is too much of any type of bacteria, It can result in discoloured and/or foul-smelling discharge. It can be the result of sexual intercourse or contact with any surface that has the bacteria present.

Besides infection, there are other possible causes for abnormal vaginal discharge. These include:

  • An object in or near the vagina such as a tampon.
  • A condition calledatrophic vaginitis that often develops after menopause when the estrogen levels in the body drop. This results in the walls of the vagina becoming thinner and drier and the body produces more discharge to counteract this.
  • Vaginal discharge may also increase during pregnancy because it helps to protect the reproductive system from infection.
  • Discharge may become extra wet and slippery during ovulation. This happens to help sperm swim up to the egg to fertilize it.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Vaginal discharge is normal and not a cause for concern. With proper hygiene and precautions during sexual intercourse, the possibility of an infection-related change in the discharge is greatly reduced. However, if a change in colour, texture or odour should occur, it must not be ignored. If a change is noticed and there are no other symptoms, self-care at home can be tried for a few days. If there is no improvement within 72 hours or if the discharge is accompanied by other symptoms,it is essential to contact the gynecology department of a leading multispecialty hospital for an accurate diagnosis and the best treatment, if it is required. Vaginal discharge is something women live with and it is easy to overlook or discount any changes that may occur. It must not be forgotten that this could be the first sign of a more serious medical issue and the earlier it is treated, the faster and more complete the recovery. Being treated by the best gynecologists is the surest way to continued good health and well-being.

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