What is vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a normal mucous discharge which is secreted by the vulval and vaginal glands of a woman. This discharge may change according to the period in the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, or according to the age of the woman.

The normal vaginal discharge is a clear, mucous dischargewhich is odourless and causes no discomfort. This becomes more watery in the middle of the cycle, during ovulation. In fact, change in the discharge from a sticky one to a more liquid one in the middle of the menstrual cycle is a very good indicator of ovulation.

The discharge also becomes more profuse during intercourse and lubricates the vagina during the sexual act. In the menopausal woman, decrease in the female hormoneestrogen can cause vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex.

When however, there is a change in the colour or smell of the discharge or it causes itching or pain in the vagina, it is probably a sign of an infection.

     Yeast or fungal infection is the commonest cause of vaginal infection or vaginitis. The discharge becomes a watery white discharge like milk or a thicker one like curd. The causative agent is generally a fungus called Candida Albicans. The cause of infection may be a lack of hygiene or conditions like Diabetes or pregnancy which makes the vagina more susceptible to infection.

     The other common infection is a bacterial infection by Bacterial Vaginosis. The discharge may turn yellow or dirty looking, it may give out a fishy odour and it can also cause itching. Sexually transmitted infections likeGonorrhea, Trichomoniasis or Human papilloma virus infection can cause a dirty brown or yellow discharge , often with a foul discharge.

     Other causes of vaginal discharge may be a foreign body left in the vagina, like a marble or small object, by a child or mentally challenged person. It may be a tampon or cotton inserted for too long and forgotten.

     Sometimes, in prolapse of the genital organs, there may be profuse discharge.

     Lastly, vaginal discharge may be a sign of a more serious disease like a cervical polyp or mass and even cancer. In these cases, the discharge may be foul smelling and blood stained.

When do you need to seek help?

Along with an abnormal discharge, you should see a gynaecologist if it is associated with vulval pain, pain abdomen, urinary burning or fever.

To conclude, vaginal discharge is a normal occurrence in most women, but a sudden change in amount, colour or smell can be an indication of something serious and must be investigated, especially in the older or perimenopausal woman.

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