Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Vaginal Discharge

What Is It? & Symptoms

Monday, Aug. 27, 2007; 7:48 PM

Copyright Harvard Health Publications 2007

What Is It?

Table of Contents

Normally, vaginal discharge is clear or white. It may become stretchy and slippery during ovulation, about two weeks after your menstrual period. A change in the color or amount of discharge, accompanied by other symptoms, may indicate that you have an infection.

The vagina normally contains bacteria. Bacterial growth is controlled and affected by many different factors, such as acid level (pH) and hormones. Anything that upsets this balance may increase your risk of infection or overgrowth of any of the normal bacteria or by yeast. Possible triggers include:

  • Antibiotic use

  • Birth control pills

  • Douching

  • Diabetes

  • Pregnancy

  • Stress

  • Tight or synthetic undergarments

Vaginal discharge may result from infection with:

  • Yeast, also called Candida, a type of fungi that is part of the normal flora of human skin but can also cause infections

  • Gardnerella, a type of bacteria found normally in the female genital tract that is the cause of bacterial vaginosis

  • Trichomonas, a type of protozoa, an organism made up of one cell

Sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea or chlamydia also can cause vaginal discharge. Other noninfectious possible causes include atrophic vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina, which usually occurs following menopause), diabetes (commonly associated with recurrent yeast infections), or irritation from a scented product such as soap, douches, pads or tampons.


You may notice a change in the color, amount or odor of discharge. A white, curdlike discharge that looks like cottage cheese is a classic sign of yeast infection. Yellow, green or gray discharge is usually a sign of trichomonas or bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis also is marked by an unusual, fishy odor.

Itching is usually most noticeable with a yeast infection, though it may occur with any type of infection or irritation. An irritated vaginal lining, which may be particularly itchy or painful during intercourse, is usually a more prominent symptom of atrophic vaginitis. A new vaginal discharge accompanied by fever, abdominal pain or pain with intercourse may indicate a sexually transmitted disease, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. However, gonorrhea and chlamydia usually don't cause any symptoms at all.

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